In January 1997 British yachtsman Tony Bullimore was sailing solo deep in the Southern Ocean. A gale was raging. The waves, reaching the height of a five story building, rushed on him with a sound like roaring thunder. As his yacht plummeted down the face of a wave it hit something submerged in the water and turned upside down.

Tony, who had been sheltering in the two metre by three metre cockpit found it had become his prison. As giant waves buffeted the boat, water poured in and out a broken window, knee high at one end, waist high at the other, the air temperature was down to 2 degrees Celsius, and it was pitch black – the sun couldn’t penetrate the upturned yacht.

Twelve times Bullimore left the cockpit in a vain attempt to release his liferaft. Meeting with no success he took refuge in his little cabin. Sitting inside the cold inky darkness Bullimore had few rations – some chocolate and  a device for making fresh water from salty sea. His fingers became frostbitten and Bullimore thought that he was going to die. The odds of being rescued seemed impossibly small.

Four four long days Tony survived, until late Wednesday night when a RAFF plane located him and dropped an electronic probe next to his yacht. Bullimore could hear the faint pings, and with hope rising in his heart, started tapping on the hull to communicate to whoever was listening that he was alive. Early the next morning the HMAS Adelaide drew alongside, and some sailors were dispatched to bang on the hull. Tony heard the banging, took a deep breath, and swam out through the wreckage of his yacht to meet them.

How did he feel at that moment? Bullimore says “When I looked over at the Adelaide, I could only get the tremendous ecstasy that I was looking at life, I was actually looking at a picture of what life was about. It was heaven, absolute heaven. I really, really never thought I would reach that far. I was starting to look back over my life and was starting to think, `Well, I’ve had a good life, I’ve done most of the things I had wanted to do’ I think if I was picking words to describe it, it would be a miracle. An absolute miracle.”

Reflecting on the experience later Bullimore told reporters “…Now that I’m getting a bit old there is one thing, and I don’t mind telling the world, I’ve become more human. In these last six days I’m a different person. I won’t be so rude to people, not that I was, but I’ll be much more of a gentleman and, equally, I’ll listen to people a lot more. And as a dear old friend of mine, David Matherson, said when he had a heart attack – and I’ve never had a heart attack, I’ve got a strong heart, I hope I still have – he said that when he got over it and opened his window in his bedroom and he peered out and smelt the fresh air and all the rest of it, he said: `God it was like being born all over again, life was great!’ Well that’s how I feel now, like being born all over again.”

Tony Bullimore learned the power of hope. It was hope of being rescued that drove him to survive and it was the fulfilment of hope that brought him such joy and a new perspective on life. In the same way the gospel promises hope to all of us, and particularly to those of us who find life tough going. A time will come when the Rescuer will arrive and release the world from the pain and suffering. And it’s that hope that drives us forward.

Bullimore reflects a common outlook among those who’ve had a brush with death. In almost religious language he says it’s like being born all over again, a fresh start at life, and one he will make a better fist of. The death and resurrection of Jesus likewise brings us a fresh appreciation of life, a fresh start and a new way of living.

Source: Scott Higgins. Bullimore quotes taken from The Sunday Age January 1997.

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