Bullimore struggling to find crew

Ed Gorman was in Barcelona for the final press conference before the start of The Race

Saturday December 30th 2000, Author: Ed Gorman, Location: United Kingdom
The musical chairs on Tony Bullimore's big cat Team Legato are still going on with just hours now remaining before the start of The Race off Barcelona. After four crew decided to get off the boat when she arrived in Spain, Bullimore said on Friday that he had found four replacements.

These were the BBC journalist Rob Salvidge, the former Vendee skipper Richard Tolkien and the two former Team Philips crew, Alex Bennett and Paul Larsen. However, as the final pre-race skipper's press conference got underway at the race village in Port Vell on Saturday, it emerged that, with the possible exception of Salvidge, all these newcomers have now decided not to sail with Bullimore.

Questioned about where he expected to find the balance of his crew, an apparently unflustered Bullimore said he was satisfied he had a solid core crew of seven to handle the lengthened former ENZA New Zealand. "We've got seven core crew that have been with the boat right from the beginning," he said, adding that he knew a "couple of guys here in Barcelona" who might join the boat. "I am sure we will have a full compliment of ten crew with all the skills we need when the gun goes on Sunday," he added.

Another topic which arose at the press conference was Bullimore's failure to complete the 2,500-mile qualifying sail. Team Legato is still 150 miles short of the requisite distance and the race committee is insisting that he does it or else he will not be able to start as a bona fide competitor. Bullimore said he may try and knock off 50 miles on Saturday night but, more likely, will sail 75 miles out from the start and 75 miles back and then pick up his official race pennant and head off to try and catch up with the fleet.

"It's important for the morale of my crew that we take the start on Sunday," said Bullimore. "We will probably go out and come back... then we're off, chasing the rest of the boats." Race officer David Adams added: "It is up to Tony to do it when he wants. He can leave Barcelona up to seven days after the start. He will receive a race flag after doing the qualification and then he will officially start The Race."

Denis Horeau, the assistant race officer, clarified the rules regarding stops and the penalties crews will face if they do stop and receive outside assistance. A first stop will be very costly with the crew required to wait 48 hours before setting sail again. After that, a 12-hour penalty is added for each subsequent stop, so a second one will carry a 60-hour penalty and a third 72 hours and so on.

Among many questions from the floor, no one asked whether each of the six skippers were happy that, with limited preparation, they were ready for the challenge of The Race and to take on the Southern Ocean. In the end it was Bruno Peyron, the race director and creator of The Race concept, who asked this question of each skipper in turn. Steve Fossett, the owner and skipper of PlayStation, said after a two-year build-up, he and his crew had done their best to prepare.

Bullimore said he was lucky to be sailing an old boat which had already proven her worth on the Jules Verne course. "It's a very strong boat with a lot of safety equipment and the crew are well-trained and I don't think we'll have any troubles at all," he said. Among the others, Cam Lewis strained credibility as much as Bullimore when he claimed that after just six weeks on the water with Team Adventure he was now fully prepared in what he said was probably the strongest of the three new Ollier-designed thoroughbreds. "We are prepared. I don't think if we had another day or another month we would change anything than where we are now," he said.

Only Skip Novak, co-skipper with Loick Peyron of Innovation Explorer, seemed prepared to admit things might not be quite as they could be. He said there were two issues; safety and competitiveness. He believed his boat was up to the mark on safety but was clearly one of the underdogs when it came to competitiveness, and he mentioned the failure of his syndicate to secure funds to build a medium-airs gennaker, as an example. "We'd like to be a bit more prepared," he said.

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