Richard BRANSON and a star-studded TEAMORIGIN crew including Mike SANDERSON and Ben AINSLIE set sail on Wednesday morning on their attempt to break the monohull transatlantic record onboard the 99ft maxi Virgin Money.
British entrepreneur Sir Richard BRANSON, his children Holly (26), and Sam (23), and the TEAMORIGIN crew, which includes Mike SANDERSON (NZL), as co-skipper and triple Olympic gold medallist Ben AINSLIE
(GBR), aim to break the World Record for crossing the Atlantic Ocean, currently set at 6 days, 17 hours, 39 minutes and 52 seconds.
Virgin Money, ex-Speedboat owned by Alex JACKSON (USA), set sail from New York and passed the official start line at Ambrose Lighthouse at 04:00 EST (09:00 BST), on 22 October 2008. The yacht will have to make the target of Lizard Point, the most South Westerly point of Great Britain, no later than 21:39.52 EST on 28 October 2008 to break the record.
Announcing the start of the challenge, BRANSON said, "I can't quite believe we've decided to leave four hours earlier than planned to ensure we jump in front of a huge storm. The first 24 hours we'll endeavour to out-run a storm and navigate another that could cause major damage to the boat and destroy our chances of breaking the record. We need to navigate these two storm systems perfectly to have any chance of succeeding. It's going to be a very challenging six days."
SANDERSON, co-skipper of Virgin Money and TEAMORIGIN Team Director commented, "As always it has been difficult finding a suitable weather window in which to begin the record attempt. Forecasters are predicting the mother of all storm systems, with two storms converging and winds of up to 50 knots. Virgin Money is a very innovative, fast, state-of-the-art yacht and given the right conditions we are confident we could beat the current record we set on Mari Cha IV in 2003 and have a great time with Sir Richard and his family."
The yacht Virgin Money, which can reach speeds of up to 45 knots, contains a crew of 25. The crew members will work in four hour shifts during the challenge in an attempt to break the record. Richard, Holly, Sam and the crew members will be posting regular blogs charting their progress during the challenge as they attempt to sail into the record books.
As well as containing two generations of the BRANSON family, the crew of Virgin Money includes a number of America's Cup sailors. AINSLIE, TEAMORIGIN helmsman and quadruple Olympic medallist said, "I am very excited to be taking part in such an amazing challenge with my TEAMORIGIN crewmates and Sir Richard BRANSON. We have a fantastic boat and a world-class team of America's Cup sailors onboard. Although I have competed in the Sydney-Hobart and the Middle Sea Race before, this will be my first Atlantic crossing. I have seen the weather forecast and it looks like it will be a pretty wild ride but I am confident we are up to the challenge."
Although the boat is power assisted, the crew aim to break the faster non-power assisted record of 6 days, 17 hours, 52 minutes and 39 seconds, set by the Mari Cha IV in 2003, to take the title as undisputed king of the Atlantic waves. ICAP Leopard currently holds the power assisted transatlantic record, with a time of 7 days, 19 hours, 20 minutes and 49 seconds.
The yacht includes the latest in nautical design and technology and its manufacture included input from race skipper SANDERSON, and Juan KOUYOUMDJIAN, principal designer at TEAMORIGIN, a team that includes Beijing Olympic gold medallists AINSLIE, Iain PERCY
(GBR), and Andrew SIMPSON
With the race skipper of Mari Cha IV, SANDERSON at the helm, and the Virgin Money yacht the pinnacle of nautical design, the race is on to beat the record for the 2,925 nautical mile voyage.
Sir Keith MILLS, TEAMORIGIN Team Principal commented, "I am thrilled that Virgin Money has set off on the transatlantic record attempt. We have various TEAMORIGIN members onboard and this is a great challenge for them to get their teeth into ahead of the next America's Cup. We are particularly pleased to welcome onboard Olympic gold medallist Ben AINSLIE, TEAMORIGIN's Skipper and Helmsman, for the record attempt. I will be eagerly following the team's progress."
VIRGIN MONEY Transatlantic Challenge crew list (25):
Mike SANDERSON (NZL), Co-Skipper
Richard BRANSON (GBR), Co-Skipper
Alex JACKSON (USA), Owner, Co-skipper
(GBR), Watch captain, helmsman
Bill ERKELENS (USA), Project Manager, Runners
Holly BRANSON (GBR), Crew, boat medic
Sam BRANSON (GBR), Crew
Chris COULSON (USA), Crew
Cromwell COULSON (USA), Crew
Matthew PRITZKER (USA), Crew
Erle WILLIAMS (NZL), Watch Captain
Stan HONEY (USA), Navigator
Julien CRESSANT (FRA), Bow
Joey ALLEN (NZL), Bow
Andrew HENDERSON (AUS), Mid-bow, Systems
Nick BICE (AUS), Pit
Matthew MASON (NZL), Pit
Robbie NAISMITH (NZL), Trimmer
Bob WYLIE (AUS), Trimmer
Mike MOTTL (AUS), Trimmer
Philip WEHRHEIM (USA), Mainsheet assist
Chris HIGGINS (USA), Runners, assist boat captain
Adam BOOME (GBR), Documentary Cameraman