Branson abandons Atlantic record bid

Click to follow

Sir Richard Branson abandoned his record attempt to cross the Atlantic in a single-hulled vessel today.

The decision came after the entrepreneur spoke of a "night from hell" that threw the record bid into disarray.

The Virgin tycoon set sail in a single-hulled yacht from New York on Wednesday with his adult children Holly, 26, Sam, 23, and Olympic hero Ben Ainslie.

But the attempt was knocked off-course by fierce winds and high seas that damaged the 99-foot boat, Virgin Money.

A spokeswoman for Virgin said the crew, currently sailing through the Bermuda triangle, would give details later about the conditions that led to them abandoning the record.

Before the decision was taken to abandon the record attempt, Sir Richard said: "We have pushed Virgin Money to its limits - I now fear over her limits.

"Virgin Money was struck by a massive wave from behind - washing one of our life rafts overboard, damaging the spinnaker and devastatingly tearing a massive hole in our mainsail.

"The last two days have felt like a lifetime. We knew when we set out this late in the season that we were going to be faced with some horrific weather conditions, but none of us could have predicted the huge storm systems."

The businessman-turned-adventurer said his crew had experienced gale force nine winds, and seen waves swell to 40 feet as they battled their way across the hostile ocean.

Holly Branson, who is a trained doctor, had to treat sailors injured on the storm-tossed boat, but no one was seriously hurt.

Billionaire Branson said: "Luckily, all of the crew were harnessed in and no one was swept overboard, which is all that matters at the end of the day."

The team had hoped to complete the journey in less than six days, 17 hrs, 52 mins and 39 seconds.

Sir Richard previously set the record for crossing the Atlantic in the fastest recorded time in a powerboat in 1986 and flew across the same ocean in the largest hot-air balloon the following year.

Speaking on the telephone, Sir Richard said it had been an "eventful trip".

"We were taken by one massive, monster wave from behind," he said.

"It ripped the main sail. We did try to mend the main sail but it was too badly ripped."

The tycoon said "everyone on board was committed to breaking the record", but bad weather could delay their next attempt until the spring.

He also paid tribute to his crew, saying "everyone had done a fantastic job".

Olympic medallist Ben Ainslie, who joined Branson for the voyage, said the decision to turn back was "disappointing".

"It was an amazing experience being on board," he said.

"We are definitely well capable of breaking the record, and I am looking forward to having another go."

Sam Branson admitted it had taken some time for him to get used to conditions at sea.

"It took a couple of days for us to get our sea legs, so it was a bit of a shame," he said.

"I have no doubt that, if we have a bit more luck, we can break that record."

The crew will now sail to St George's island in Bermuda to recover from the voyage, a consolation for Branson's daughter Holly, who said she was looking forward to "some sun and some nice food" after her time at sea.

She described how she had treated the crew as they were flung around on the deck.

"One person smashed against the mast," she said. "A couple of people needed some painkillers."