British Vendée Globe solo racer Tony Bullimore has died in his native Bristol at the age of 79. Although he became better known for the daring rescue by the Australian Navy from his upturned Exide Challenge during the third edition of race which took place between 1996 and 1997, he was already an accomplished, successful offshore racer who commissioned pioneering Nigel Irens multihull designs in the 1980s, winning the Round Europe Race and the Round Britain Race in 1985.
The story of his rescue made news headlines around the world. Correspondingly news of his passing today from a rare form of cancer has already been reported all over the world.
His boat turned over and filled with water in seconds when the keel broke off his boat and the boom punctured his deck lookout window in 80kt gusts and huge seas in the Southern Ocean on January 5th at 52 deg S, some 1200 nautical miles west of Australia and 800 miles north of Antarctic. While the outside world mostly assumed he had perished in the frozen oceans, he survived in an air pocket for nearly five days, eating a bar of chocolate and food remnants which had floated past him.
The Royal Australian Navy’s HMS Adelaide first rescued Thierry Dubois on 9th January and very early next morning found Bullimore who swam out from the upturned hull. When he boarded the Adelaide and met the Chief Petty Officer Bullimore’s first request was for a cup of tea, telling the the chief petty officer: 'If you didn't have a beard I'd kiss you.'
Queen Elizabeth II later paid tribute to his spirit of survival.
Mike Golding writes:
Tony Bullimore 1939 - 2018
The legend that is Tony Bullimore is perhaps best known for being rescued from his keel less and upturned boat deep in the Southern Ocean during the Vendee Globe 96/97. It was here Tony earned the nickname “The British Bulldog” as no one expected to find anyone alive after four days adrift in the freezing and stormy conditions in the South. The famous photos of Tony wrapped in a space blanket holding his hand (he lost a part of his finger during the rescue) and his assertion that he had survived on just Chocolate and True Grit were beamed around the globe. Tony was a real “can do” guy who’s ebullient character just made big things happen – for example, it was Tony who commissioned the two 60ft Nigel Irens designed trimarans (Apricot 1/11) that transformed offshore multihull sailing forever. Prior to the Apricot’s, multihulls seemed like they were assembled from parts of other boats – the Apricots brought everything together and performed accordingly, dominating the races of that decade.
Away from his passion for sailing he was a highly successful businessman who along with his West Indian wife Lalel, opened the Bamboo Club in 1966. It was the first social venue in Bristol to welcome the African-Caribbean community which hosted big names including Bob Marley And The Wailers, Tina Turner and Ben E King.
If you met Tony, even just once, you would never forget him – he will be sadly missed by the sailing community that cherishes such character and charisma.
Sail safely Tony…