Bullimore's risky return

Click to follow
The Independent Online

One brush with death would be enough for most people, but Tony Bullimore is preparing once again to challenge the Southern Ocean's icy waters which so nearly claimed his life four years ago.

One brush with death would be enough for most people, but Tony Bullimore is preparing once again to challenge the Southern Ocean's icy waters which so nearly claimed his life four years ago.

Bullimore, now 61, was the focus of world attention when his 60ft yacht lost its keel and capsized 1,200 miles from the nearest land while its skipper was taking part in the Vendée Globe single-handed race. In fact, Bullimore was so far from civilisation that it took an Australian Navy frigate four days to fight its way through huge seas to reach the upturned yacht in which he was trapped in an air pocket with only a couple of bars of chocolate and his boundless optimism to sustain him.

The optimism that helped Bullimore through his ordeal has not deserted him, and he will need plenty of it for The Race, a non-stop dash around the world in the fastest sail boats ever built, starting from Barcelona on 31 December. His chosen steed this time is, appropriately enough, an old war horse of a catamaran. It started life as an 80-footer called Tag Heuer in 1983, and was lengthened to 90 feet and then 92 feet, as Enza, to set a new world record of 74 days 22 hr 17min for skippers Sir Peter Blake and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston in 1994. Bullimore bought it after it had been dismasted in much the same area from where he was rescued. Today it is in his home town in a shed on Redcliffe Wharf in Bristol Docks.

It has new bows which have added a further 10 feet to its length, a new mast is due to be trucked from Southampton in the next few days, sails are being made in France, new electronics have been fitted and the beds made to house two new engines. All this will be completed, says a confident Bullimore, by the end of this month. The boat will then have to be lifted across the Prince Street Bridge, taken down to Avonmouth, everything checked and checked again on a trip to Falmouth. The real work then begins, because Bullimore has to complete a 2,500-mile qualifying sail - he plans to go round the Azores - and have the boat in Monte Carlo by 15 December.

Bullimore says he has a crew lined up, but contracts have yet to be signed, and he thinks 10 will be enough. His rival Grant Dalton has decided he needs 15 for Club Med, and eyebrows are still being raised at Pete Goss's intention to go round with six in the as yet unproved Team Philips. Having escaped the Grim Reaper once, why take the risk again? "Simple," says Bullimore. "It's what I do. You don't run away because you've had a bad one."

When his Australian rescuers reached Bullimore four years ago they launched an inflatable and the officer in charge banged on the upturned hull before hearing a shout of "Hang on, I'm coming". However, Bullimore was far from out of danger. He had to swim, with no oxygen equipment, under the water-filled part of the yacht's saloon and out through an escape hatch into the heaving seas. The kisses and hugs he was prepared to shower on his rescuer and the grins on his stubble-encrusted face told their own story.

Here was a man lucky to be alive, who knew it, and who wanted to shout his joyful relief at the top of his voice. Never the most taciturn of men, he did so, at length, when he reached the haven of Fremantle on the coast of Western Australia.

Comments