News that the British yachtsman Tony Bullimore had lost contact with his shore team as he approached the waters off Fremantle was doing little yesterday for Anglo-Australian relations in the approach to the first Ashes Test match next week.
"What a friggin menace the pomme [sic] idiot is," complained Wally Brown of Brisbane on the website of Rupert Murdoch's Courier-Mail newspaper. "If the authorities had any sense they would take away his right to sail. Imagine what it is going to cost, if he is lost again."
While there were those taking part in the online debate prepared to defend Bullimore's freewheeling spirit, it seems much of the Australian public cannot forget the air-sea rescue mounted in 1997 to him. It is said to have cost Australian taxpayers A$7m (£2.8m).
With little more than a bar of chocolate and boundless determination to sustain him, Bullimore, now aged 67, spent five days adrift in the Southern Ocean, upside down in a freezing air pocket of his capsized boat before being rescued by the crew of HMAS Adelaide.
But the latest announcement that a power failure had cut all communications with the outside world as he made his way to Australia for a solo round-the-world record attempt, prompted a feeling of déjà vu. "The official word is that he's not missing. It's just that no one knows exactly where British sailor Tony Bullimore is," commented the broadcaster ABC dryly.
According to Barry Pickthall, back in Team Bullimore control centre in West Sussex, talk of rescue is premature. "There has been no alert, no cause for concern at this stage. He is not even overdue," he insisted. However, maritime authorities have issued an all-ships alert in the Indian Ocean to find the yachtsman and his four crew who lost contact eight days ago.
Mr Pickthall believes that the 102ft catamaran, Doha 2006, suffered a power failure after its generator broke down causing it to lose its satellite link, severing phone and e-mail communications. He said contaminated fuel taken on board in the Maldives was to blame.
"We are not expecting to hear from him until the weekend," s aid Mr Pickthall. "At the moment he is not in any shipping lanes so he has not been spotted by other vessels." According to the team's weather forecasters, there have been no storms in the area and his present position is thought to be 1,000 miles off Cape Lewin in western Australia.
Bullimore's misadventures in the 1997 Vendée Globe race, one of the toughest challenges in sport, saw him hailed a hero in Britain. He was inundated by letters from admirers, offered a book deal and even met the Queen. The publicity resulted in him meeting a daughter he never knew he had. He went on to make headlines again in 2001 when a routine sail from his home port of Bristol to Falmouth with a BBC film crew on board, turned into a nightmare battle against force 9 winds. The boat eventually made landfall in Lisbon. His travails continued in 2005 when he was handed an empty envelope instead of a $300,000 second-place prize after the race in which he was competing in Qatar ran into financial difficulties.
On arriving in Australia, Bullimore hopes to lead an assault on Dame Ellen MacArthur's solo round-the-world record of 71 days, 14 hours and 18 minutes.Reuse content