When four press went on board for a day's sail on Team Legato they got more than they bargained for, finishing up a week later in Lisbon

Four press men invited for a day’s sail last Thursday aboard Tony Bullimore’s 102 ft round the world race catamaran, Team Legato, found themselves in Lisbon early today.

Bullimore and his crew set out for a day’s sail testing from Avonmouth at 6.15 am on Thursday, 14th December, and were due to call in at Falmouth to drop off the press contingent and pick up another photographer from France for the voyage down to Barcelona.

However, force 7 winds off Lands End coupled with the promise of a severe low pressure system striking the area later, forced Bullimore and his crew to head out into the Atlantic to avoid the worst of the storm. By Friday night Team Legato was riding out the weather 200 miles west of Brittany heading due south across the Bay of Biscay. At that time it looked as if they might have to go straight to Gibraltar. “My first responsibility is to the safety of the crew and the boat. It would have been foolhardy to the extreme to head for a lee shore in that gale.” Bullimore explained.

Unfortunately the crew found that none of the communication systems other than their short range VHF were working and it was impossible to tell Team Legato’s shore team what was happening.

BBC cameraman, Scott Ellis from Bristol, was not amused. “I’m meant to be covering other stories this weekend and only one of us has a passport.” Ellis demanded to be dropped off “anywhere” but later calmed down when he realized that he was a hostage to fortune and then mucked in for the remaining 4 days at sea doing all the cooking.

Rob Salvidge, a BBC radio reporter also from Bristol, said “Bristol prides itself on its maritime traditions, but I didn’t realize until now that the press gang is still one of them.” The BBC mmen, apparently, only had raincoats for weather protection.

Paul Gelder, deputy editor of Yachting Monthly was equally surprised by the dramatic turn of events. “Not content with gaining maximum publicity for spending 5 days upside down in his own yacht 4 years ago, Tony Bullimore is now turning our world upside down too! On Saturday, the Team Legato crew attempted to reach Vigo in North West Spain but a force 9 gale again forced them to turn away and head further south. No one was in danger, in fact we were enjoying anexhilarating sleigh ride down the Atlantic, but things were very cramped on board with only 8 berths between the 14 of us,” Gelder continued.

Barry Pickthall, the fourth journalist on board, was philosophical about it all. “I knew that there was not enough food on board for the 14 of us to reach Barcelona but it was not such a bad thing I guessto lose some weight before Christmas!”

Team Legato’s greatest asset was her speed. Creaming across the Bay of Biscay at 20 knots on Friday gave her crew the ability to duck and weave between the depressions and avoid the worst of the weather. And even when battling against force 8/9 winds into Lisbon on Sunday and Monday, the boat behaved impeccably.

“I’m very sorry for all the turmoil and concern this has caused everyone,” said Bullimore today in Lisbon, “but it has been a fantastic test for the boat. I’ve now got the greatest faith in her for The Race, the non-stop round the world race, starting from Barcelona on 31st December, 2000.”

Barry Pickthall added: “we did everything possible to get off the boat, Going to the extreme of forming an escape committee. The French crew members on board wanted to strike on to Gibraltar which in retrospect would have given us the best run, but we all had commitments and needed to get home as quickly as possible. Some of the ideas we cooked up was to lock the French crew in one of the hulls. Another was to drug the skipper and take over the central ‘god pod.’ If we hadn’t gone into Lisbon today, I’m sure we would have taken a life raft, an emergency beacon and jumped overboard.”

Tony Bullimore and his 4 hostages will be returning to the UK today Tuesd ay 19th.