NEW YORK – Two days after setting sail from New York City, British billionaire Sir Richard Branson abandoned his bid to break the trans-Atlantic speed record Friday after a 40-foot "monster" wave ripped the main sail of his single-hulled racing yacht.
Branson and his crew made the decision around 7:15 a.m. EDT Friday when the 99-foot Virgin Money was about 600 miles out in the Atlantic. No one was injured in the storm, and the sailors hoped to reach St. George, Bermuda — the nearest point of land — later Friday.
In a conference call from the vessel, Branson said, "We got taken by one massive, monster wave, which approached us from behind and took one of our life rafts. ... All the crew was harnessed in, so everyone was safe."
The 58-year-old Virgin Group chairman said the crew made an attempt to mend the sail but it was too badly ripped. "We live to fight another day," he said.
The crew included members of Britain's America's Cup team, several medal-winning Olympians and Branson's son, Sam, 23, and daughter, Holly, 26.
Branson had hoped to break the record for a trans-Atlantic crossing by reaching Lizard Point off the coast of England in less than six days, 17 hours, 52 minutes and 39 seconds — the current record. The voyage began at about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday at Ambrose Light in New York Bay.
Co-skipper Mike Sanderson, who joined the conference call, said the crew knew in advance that the trip "was going to be tough."
But, echoing Branson, he said they'd try again. "The boat is in good shape and ready to sail another day."
Branson presaged events somewhat when he noted on departing: "We know we're going to go through ferocious weather, and that's what we need to get the speeds we need to cross the Atlantic. But obviously we don't want the kind of storm that's going to break up the boat."
Branson has been breaking speed records since the 1980s. He broke a record in 1986 that had stood for 34 years when he manned a speedboat across the Atlantic. He has also piloted hot air balloons across the Atlantic and Pacific.
He had been on a hiatus from such adventures since the 1990s, but said in September when he announced this latest undertaking that he couldn't resist the chance at "the greatest sailing record of all."