Yesterday it emerged that his emergency beacon had drifted clear of the yacht. Members of his back-up team in Bristol said the boat, Exide Challenger, had four beacons. The one drifting was not in distress mode and they were confident Mr Bullimore was still with the yacht.
The rescue team, which picked up a distress signal from Mr Bullimore on Sunday, is near another yachtsman, Thierry Dubois, 29, who capsized in the same storm. The frigate HMAS Adelaide hoped to launch a helicopter this morning to pick up the Frenchman, who is in a liferaft.
Mr Bullimore and Mr Dubois, competitors in the Vendee Globe round-the- world race, overturned 900 miles from Antarctica and 1,400 miles from Australia.
Aircraft have sighted Mr Bullimore's yacht but there was no sign of him. Listening devices dropped yesterday failed to elicit a response.
Andrew Reynolds, an Australian defence spokesman, said: "It does not mean because we have not heard ... that he is not there or that he is dead."
Raydon Gates, the Adelaide's captain, said that after rescuing Mr Dubois the frigate would head 60 miles south to Mr Bullimore's yacht, but could spend only 12 hours in the atrocious conditions of the search zone.
The yacht's manufacturers have said that Mr Bullimore could survive reasonably well in the boat's two living spaces and would have about 140 hours of air.
Rescuers will try to establish contact with Mr Bullimore through the hull, so that he can swim out, or will attempt to cut a hole into the yacht.
The Australian skipper did not play down the difficulties of recovering the yachtsmen in the turbulent waters.
"This is the furthest south we've ever had to effect a rescue," he said.Reuse content