The third edition of the Vendée Globe went down in history as one of the most dramatic. Three sailors were rescued from the most hostile of Indian Oceans. Canadian Gerry Roufs did not make it and was lost in the Pacific Ocean. It was a landmark edition which directly gave rise to the IMOCA class and the new safety standards which came with it.
For this 1996-7 edition there were fifteen competitors at the start, plus Raphael Dinelli, who was authorised to race unofficially because he had not made the qualifying passage. But the Vendéen skipper was given a tracking beacon by organiser Philippe Jeantot.
While Christophe Augin lead the race several competitors had to stop to repair damage. Thierry Dubois is one of them, first he had to stop at Cape Town to repair one of his rudders on Amnesty International. Behind him, Tony Bullimore was sailing his own way. To get a good result, you need to finish. With everyone entering the Indian Ocean, a deep low was about to sweep across the Roaring Forties.
Pete Goss, A Seemingly Impossible Rescue.
The first victim of bad weather is Raphaël Dinelli, the most westerly of the fleet. On December 25, the wind hits 60 knots with gusts over 70 knots. Raphaël Dinelli communicates with the Vendée Globe Race HQ describing his situation. He capsized twice, mast in the water. Under bare poles his monohull starts surfing at nearly twenty knots. Suddenly a wave bigger than all the others sends his boat on a crazy ride finally pitchpoling end over end. In the process the mast pierces the deck and water rushes into the cabin.Dinelli has no choice but to don his survival suit and activate his distress beacons. He is halfway between South Africa and Australia and no authorities can come to his rescue, no one that is excpet another another competitor. It is the British skipper Pete Goss who turns around and fights for more than two daysagainst the prevailing winds to return to the position of Dinelli’s wrecked yacht. An Australian Navy aircraft managed to drop Dinelli a life raft.
Goss rescues Dinelli and it takes more than ten days for both men to reach Hobart Tasmania. The British sailor will resume his race despite a particularly painful elbow injury that progressively gets better at sea.
Goss finishes fifth after being credited with the time lost for the rescue of Dinelli.
Thierry Dubois and Tony Bullimore, the next pages in a remarkable chapter
On land it seems the world is rejoicing in the successful rescue of Dinelli. But on January 5, two new competitors then set off their distress beacons within hours of each other. Thierry Dubois and Tony Bullimore are both facing daunting conditions. The Frenchman who came to prominence winning the Mini-Transat of 1993 was in particularly difficult conditions. The wind was at 70 knots and the waves were easily ten metres high. Dubois took refuge inside his boat, leaving his pilot to do its best. Suddenly a wave rolls his boat and the mast is broken in three places. But the redoubtable Dubois sets a jury rig and does not ask for assistance. The next morning he is rolled again and this time his boat remains upturned, keel in the air. And the waters start coming in the windows which were damaged when his yacht was rolled. The situation becomes critical on board: Dubois decides to leave the boat and get into his liferaft. But the tether for the raft breaks and he finds himself hooked to the rudder of his upside down being swept by the seas.
But Bullimore is the first of the two to trigger his distress beacons. His boat is rolled and the keel breaks. He does not panic at first and is safe inside. But suddenly the Plexiglas lookout bubble explodes and the water rushes into the cabin. Within moments the situation becomes critical.
After deploying his beacon, the British soloist dons his survival suit and finds refuge in one of the few parts of his boat still out of the water. In the meantime, he lost part of a finger after a hatch slammed shut on his hand as he tried to reach his life raft.
The Australian authorities realise the need for a rapid intervention. But although the skippers are no more than ten miles apart they are fully three days away from their nearest ship. First an Australian Navy aircraft manages to locate the two skippers and drops a life raft to Thierry Dubois. The upturned hull of Tony Bullimore is also identified. But even so the rescuers do not know that the skipper is still alive imprisoned inside his boat. They don’t know until on January 9 when a rubber boat from the frigate Adelaïde can get to him. A few hours earlier Thierry Dubois was hoisted aboard by a helicopter that took off from the same frigate's deck.
The two men are safe and sound. But since January 7 the positioning beacon of Gerry Roufs the Canadian skipper has not been transmitting. A few long weeks later the wreck of his boat is found off the coast of Chile.
The disappearance of Gerry Roufs, the miraculous rescues of Raphael Dinelli, Thierry Dubois and Tony Bullimore set alarm bells ringing.
For the safety of the skippers it is obvious that big decisions must be made. The rules governing the boats are modified, rollover tests are imposed, the beam of the boats is limited and the IMOCA class is born.
Today Thierry Dubois sails on the Louise, a 19-meter schooner he built himself. He takes budding adventurers, mountaineers or sailors to discover the Arctic regions.
Raphaël Dinelli, meanwhile, having finally completed the Vendée Globe in 2008-2009 has embarked on a completely different adventure launching the production of a fully autonomous electric aircraft. The first copy is already flying and may lead to the the manufacture of a small series.
Tony Bullimore passed away recently, finally losing his battle with cancer. After his Vendée Globe he continued with various racing projects and became a successful, popular businessman in his home city of Bristol.
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