An exhausted Richard Branson, speaking via satellite phone aboard Virgin Money, two days into their attempt to break the transatlantic mono-hull speed record, described their 'Night of hell' . . .
'We’ve just experienced a night from hell when Virgin Money was struck by a massive wave from behind – washing one of our life rafts over board, damaging the spinnaker and devastatingly tearing a massive hole in our mainsail.
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. We don’t know what the next few hours will bring. We are now frantically trying to repair the sails enough to continue.'
'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 – at times between gale force 7 – 9, seeing swells up to 40ft – that we have been bombarded with. We have pushed Virgin Money to its limits – I now fear over her limits.'
'We have the most amazing and experienced crew from Team Origin, including Olympic triple Gold medallist Ben Ainslie, onboard - who will work flat out for the next few hours to endeavour to resurrect our dreams of breaking this most historic of sailing records.'
'After everything we have been through in the last two days Sam, Holly, who has already been called upon several times to use her medical training with the crew suffering a variety of injuries as a result of being thrown about the boat by the severe conditions, and I will be bitterly disappointed to give up the fight for our first world record attempt together as a family.' Soon after news came confirming the mainsail was too badly damaged to be repaired at sea and the boat was now heading back to Bermuda.
'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.'
Branson said again by sat phone that the boat would be ready to sail again in the next few weeks, with another record attempt possible later this year or in the spring.
Mike Sanderson, Co-Skipper Virgin Money and Team Origin 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.
Ben Ainslie, Team Origin 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.'