Branson record attempt abandoned

Team Origin, Britain’s America’s Cup team founded by Sir Keith Mills in 2007, along with Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin empire teamed up to try and break the record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic in a monohull aboard the 99-foot Virgin Money (formerly Alex Jackson’s Speedboat). After leaving New York on Wednesday, Oct 22. with Richard Branson and his children Holly and Sam on board, the boat experienced a mainsail failure that was not repairable at sea and so they are abandoning the attempt. The transatlantic record of 6 days 17 hours, 39 minutes and 52 seconds still stands if anyone wants to take a shot at it.

From the press release: Sir Richard Branson and the TEAMORIGIN crew aboard Virgin Money have been forced to abandon their transatlantic monohull speed record attempt. Just two days after setting sail from New York, USA, they experienced substantial damage to their mainsail and spinnaker caused by a large wave striking them from behind and washing one of the life rafts overboard. With the world record now out of their grasp, Virgin Money is diverting to St George, Bermuda, where it is expected to arrive at approximately 21:00 GMT this evening.

Speaking via satellite phone aboard Virgin Money at 13.00 GMT today, the crew gave details of the challenge so far and of the conditions that have led to them abandoning the record:

Sir Richard Branson: “We have had an eventful trip with waves up to 40 feet, gale force winds between force 7 and 9. We got taken by one massive monster wave, which approached us from behind and took one of our life rafts.  Fortunately all the crew were harnessed in, so everybody was safe.

“The storm blew out a spinnaker and it ripped the mainsail. We have tried to repair the mainsail, and managed to mend one bit, but the bottom of the sail was too badly ripped.

“We are now heading to St George in Bermuda and should be there around about 4 or 5 o’clock this afternoon. We have got a fantastic group of sailors onboard, obviously Mike Sanderson who is skippering the British attempt at the America’s Cup – and Ben Ainslie. Everyone has done a fantastic job. We live to fight another day and we are having a magnificent sail now back towards Bermuda with enormous rolling waves. The change is that the wind is now behind us.

“The boat will be ready to sail again in the next few weeks, and it’s possible that there might be one week left this season, otherwise it will be spring before it can go again. But everybody onboard the boat is committed to get the record. The boat did well but the conditions were too bad for the boat to bear.

Mike Sanderson, Co-Skipper Virgin Money and TEAMORIGIN Team Director:

“As Richard said, we have had a fairly exciting trip. We knew on leaving that this record was going to be tough, the forecast for this attempt was going to be tough, and the forecast was tough. There are a couple of ways of getting across the Atlantic in record time. One is in a more northerly route, which was always going to be fairly aggressive and one is a southerly route, where the waters are a lot flatter. It was getting quite late in the season for the northerly route that we chose, but the potential time was very quick, however Lady Luck was unfortunately not shining down on us.

“We suffered damage on the second day to the mainsail. Basically it is irrepairable out here. We had a good go at fixing the damage half way up the sail but the damage in the bottom of the sail isn’t repairable. With the mainsail having to be reefed down, we were going to be possibly a day outside the record, so the decision was made that it wasn’t a viable challenge.

“Obviously, the first concern is the crew’s safety and the guys are all fit and well. The boat is in good shape and ready to sail another day, so onwards and upwards.

Ben Ainslie, TEAMORIGIN Helmsman and triple Olympic gold medallist:

“I can only echo the words of Richard and Mike. It is obviously disappointing that we had a failure in the mainsail that has really forced us to pull out and not be able to break the record. It has certainly been an amazing experience sailing on the boat, it’s an awesome bit of kit, a real beast.

“Certainly in the future with the right weather and without the gear failures, it is well capable of beating the record. It’s good that we are all safe and I am absolutely looking forward to the future and having another go at the record.

Holly Branson: “It’s been the most amazing trip. Very, very exciting. Fortunately, I haven’t had to put my medical hat on for anything too serious. A couple of people needed some painkillers; one person smashed themself against the mast and needed some painkillers, but that’s the only thing I have really had to do.

“Other than that I am pretty disappointed that we are not going to be able to make the record, but we are happy that we are off to Bermuda for some sun and nice food.

Sam Branson: “It was an amazing experience for us beginners. It’s taken about a day to get our sea legs and by the time we got used to it we were heading home, which was a bit of a shame. It has been an amazing trip. It’s been incredible watching these guys at the top of their game working under tough conditions. Sails ripping, spinnakers ripping, all hands on deck to keep the boat going along. I have no doubt that with a bit more luck in the future we are going to take this record.

Alex Jackson, Co-Skipper and Owner Virgin Money:

“I’m pretty happy with the way the boat is performing. With these sea states we are always worried about our ability to maintain speed. We have to maintain at least 20 knots to break the record, which is about 24 miles an hour. That’s if we are sailing straight to the UK, however, generally on the actual route we have to maintain a higher speed. The boat has been performing pretty well against the polars, up to about 100% of theoretical speed. When we were in the bigger waves, that’s when we begin to really worry about it. At times we were down a bit, but nothing we couldn’t overcome. So we have a few adjustments to make before the next try.


By Ocean Navigator