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UPDATED: Tony Bullimore's maxi-cat capsizes

Seven crew winched to safety in the Bay of Biscay

Thursday October 28th 2010, Author: James Boyd, Location: France

Tony Bullimore’s 105ft maxi-catamaran Spirit of Antigua capsized last night in the Bay of Biscay while on a delivery trip from La Coruna to Bristol. Her seven crew, that didn’t include Bullimore, have been safely rescued and are now in France.

More from 27/10 pm: The latest quote from Ben Jones, 29, the skipper of Spirit of Antigua when she capsized 140 miles of Brest on Wednesday night, more information has been released about Tony Bullimore's catamaran capsizing in the Bay of Biscay.

“There wasn’t that much wind - only about 15knots. We were sailing fast and close to the wind. We then had a big gust and because it’s a multihull, the apparent wind induces a much worse affect. So the boat powered up a lot very quickly. At the same time the windward hull came off a wave, which got the hull lifting out. The rudder stalled. We couldn’t get the sheet off quickly enough so we couldn’t depower the boat.”

Currently the Dutch Navy has a warship standing by the upturned catamaran. The Dutch will stay until a tug and salvage team set out to recover the multihull over the weekend. Then three of the original crew (presently drying out in Brest) can get out to attempt to recover the vessel.

According to the Maritime Coastguard Agency the distress signal from an EPIRB registered to Spirit of Antigua was received by the MRCC in Falmouth at 19:30 BST last night. The boat at the time was crossing the Bay of Biscay, some 140 miles off the French coast at the latitude of Nantes and so the handling of the rescue mission was passed on to the MRCC’s French equivalent, the CROSS Etel.

HMS Ocean was in the vicinity but she wasn’t required as the CROSS Etel scrambled a French navy helicopter that successfully winched the seven crew to safety, the MRCC receiving this news at 2344. The crew were then flown to the French naval base in Brest.

At the time the weather in the Bay of Biscay was moderate – the shipping forecast suggesting winds from the WSW of force 3-4 occasionally force 5.

Spirit of Antigua has had one of the longest, fullest careers possibly of any race boat. Designed by Nigel Irens she was built originally in 1982 for Mike Birch at 75ft LOA and campaigned under the name Formule TAG. Built by aerospace builders Canadair, she was one of the first composite offshore racing boats built using a mix of carbon fibre/Kevlar with both Airex and Nomex cores. Highlight of Birch's tenure was when she set a new 24 hour record of 512.5nm during the 1984 Quebec-St Malo race. 

After lying dormant in the late 1980s, she was acquired by Peter Blake in 1993, and in a major refit was lengthed to 92ft, had a new centrepod installed between the main and aft beams, fitted with a new wingmast and renamed ENZA New Zealand. After competing in the first attempt on the Jules Verne Trophy, Blake and Robin Knox-Johnston succeeded in setting a new non-stop round the world record over the winter of 1994-5 with a time of 74 days 12 hours.

She was subsequently bought by Tracy Edwards and renamed Royal & SunAlliance. With an all-girl crew she set off on a Jules Verne Trophy attempt in 1998 which was sadly never concluded when the boat was dismasted in the Pacific section of the Southern Ocean. However Edwards' crew included several future stars from Sam Davies, Emma Richards and Miranda Merron to Olympic sailor Sharon Ferris. 

Tony Bullimore acquired the boat to compete in The Race in 2001 when it was called Team Legato and subsequently campaigned it in Tracy Edwards' Oryz Quest in 2005 under the name Team Daedelus.

We hope that she can be salvaged.

16:26 update from Barry Pickthall: The crew are expected to return to the UK overnight on the Roscoff/Plymouth ferry. Tony Bullimore, 71 had been planning to race the catamaran one more time in an attempt to break the Round Antarctica sailboat record, and was having the boat returned to his home port of Bristol to prepare her for the challenge.

Conditions at the time were reported to be slight slight seas, good visibility, and winds 11knots/h. In an interview with the French press today, skipper Ben Jones said that they were hit by a sudden gust of wind. "The catamaran accelerated from 15 to 30knots and we were not able to slow her down."

Latest Comments

  • marius 29/10/2010 - 10:48

    fitted with a new wingmast and renamed ENZA New Zealand... It was a fixed carbon mast.

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