Tony Bullimore is ‘larger than life’, gregarious and preparing himself and his boat for an attempt on the solo round the world record. He intends to sail his 102 foot long, high performance catamaran alone and cover a distance of 23,000 miles, around the world, in less than 70 days. Tony will be undertaking one of sport’s most extreme challenges, including sailing the Southern Ocean in autumn.
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I had the opportunity to spend a morning with Tony at the Bellerive Yacht Club, across the Derwent river from Hobart, as the final preparations were made for departure, and ask him some questions. What you see is what you get, with Tony; however, don’t let the genial exterior fool you, behind his smiling face is calculating intelligence and his eyes twinkle as he carefully considers his words.

“Why?” That’s the question most people ask. Tony, who is the same age as the Australian PM John Howard - 68 years - answers this question simply. “The record is for the longest and greatest sailing achievement, it’s personal for me”. Tony seems to love a challenge and overcoming adversity against all odds; it’s very hard to imagine him at the bowls club, gardening or showing his pensioner bus pass.

A friend of mine wondered how Tony’s involvement with activities such as the ‘Special Olympics’ had affected him. Tony, who is a firm believer in community involvement, says “I always try to help people in life and give something back to the community”. He has great respect for the yacht and sailing clubs that run cadet / junior activities and believes that “What I and others do on the high seas all helps to inspire others. It is important to remember that the young people today will carry the flag and be the sporting stars of tomorrow”.

What will Tony do after the attempt? Is this his last gasp? In true Tony fashion he says “I will get off the boat, start thinking, then decide the future and I ain’t saying no more”

Over 3 tons of unnecessary equipment have been removed from the boat, but Tony has allowed himself the luxury of an additional 120 kgs of fuel, because - as he says - he needs to be sure he can keep up the power to his essential communications systems.

Keeping Tony informed of the following weather will allow him to ‘sail the weather’, his boat is fast, very fast - “The fastest I’ve been on it is 38 knts,” he says “but I don’t expect to be doing that during the attempt.” - and vital assistance from his weather tactician, American Lee Bruce, will allow him to outrun the worst of the weather, if needed, and to avoid the lulls, whilst keeping the pressure up, for his expected runs on good days of between 450 and 500 miles.

He is taking just 70 days supplies and expecting to lose some weight. “If I could lose a couple of stone, I would be delighted.” he laughed. He will manage his food intake, depending on progress. Whilst, he has not specifically trained for such personal challenges as sleep deprivation, as other singlehanded round the world sailors have, he says, “I’m naturally O.K. at taking naps. I sleep in small doses in between the different work tasks that are needed to be done on the boat”.

Tony certainly has the experience of a professional long distance yachtsman, whilst singlehanded sailing on this boat has only been a “few hundred miles” he has sailed over 120,000 miles and done a couple of circumnavigations with a crew, so is not concerned. As far as reefing the massive main, he will do this manually, as per the requirements of the attempt, and expects that, if the wind gets up to 55 to 65 knts, he would sail with a storm jib and no main, with the wing mast driving the boat. Certainly, the mast was keen to go, in 35 knts on the moorings, but you expect that from a carbon wing mast that’s 107ft tall!

I wondered how such an outgoing and gregarious man would handle the loneliness. He told me “I have two modes and can switch on and switch off, so loneliness is not an issue.” He also thanks his wife, “who is very supportive, 24 hours a day”.

As the first signs of the approaching winter swept through Hobart last night, dropping the temperature from a humid 27°C to a cool rainy morning of 10°C, the weather window is closing fast. The northerlies that have been have been a feature, over south east Australia, for most of late summer are now giving way to strong south westerly fronts, blasting along the southern coast of Australia. Tony says he will be departing in the next couple of days, final work on the vital electronics was being finished up. “The boat has had a tremendous amount of work done,” Tony said “there were loads of tiny jobs, but we are ready to go, once the weather pattern is correct”.

In an age of compliance, where many sporting heroes are personality free, Tony is a shining example of personality plus;, who engenders great loyalty in those that surround him. His ‘tradies’, the members and staff of the Bellarive Yacht Club, will not hear a bad word about him and one criticised a popular Internet forum site for negative comments, “from those that sit in armchairs and do nothing”.

In my opinion, all solo round the world sailors must, to some extent, have a few ‘rocks loose’. Is Tony crazy to attempt this challenge, at 68, in a high performance catamaran, with limited singlehanded hours, at the onset of the Southern Ocean autumn? Of course he is, in my view, but does it matter? Not really, providing things go well; the boat’s good and well founded, the weather tactician is an expert, Tony has all the experience that you can get. What’s he got to lose, at his age, by risking all to add the greatest trophy to his mantlepiece and stamp, forever, his footprint in sailing history ....... only his life!

The downside is, of course, the cost of rescue if things go even slightly wrong. The Aussie public is still smarting from the cost of Tony’s previous rescue, when his Vendée Globe yacht capsized. Still, as one wit on a sailing forum commented, “he will be in NZ waters pretty quickly!” Actually, in an age of bloated sponsorship for other events, Tony’s one man challenge and his values, probably closely match those of some more anarchistic Internet forums? I reckon so anyway.

Will Tony break the record? In terms of mental toughness - no worries; of tactical support - no issues; as for the boat, despite how strong and well prepared it is and getting favorable weather patterns, only time will tell.

So Tony, yes I think you are crazy to have a go, however, you are a true hero and the sailing world would be so very boring without people like you in it. Good luck to you, you are a courageous man and an inspiration to others, may fair but strong winds be with you.

 

In January 1994, Tony Bullimore’s catamaran – then named Enza - crossed the Jules Verne start line, between Ushant and the Lizard lighthouse. On board were co-skippers Peter Blake and Robin Knox-Johnston and a crew of six. There was a French rival, Olivier de Kersauson with a giant trimaran Lyonnaise des Eaux to make a race of it.
Enza made good early progress and, after 20 days, passed south of the Cape of Good Hope. Down into the Southern Ocean, the expectations were that the usual westerlies would take the catamaran to Cape Horn, but easterlies prevailed and - for 11 days - Enza sailed below 60°S, lower than any multihull had ever ventured. Approaching Cape Horn, a vicious gale threatened to force them even further south and there were fears they might even be driven ashore on Antarctica.
There was more to come, having round the Horn and got close to home, they found storm force winds in the English Channel, creating mountainous seas that threatened to pitch pole the catamaran, which – even under bare poles - was careering along too fast. Enza crossed the finish line, with a drogue made up of anchor chain and long warps cast in a loop from each transom, on April 1, 1994, setting a new round the world record of 74 days 22 hours and 17 minutes.

Tony’s website is http://www.teambullimore.com/