Sir Richard Branson does love a challenge doesn't he?! In 1985 and 1986 he attempted the fastest Atlantic Ocean Crossing in the 'Virgin Atlantic Challenger's I and II,' beating the record by two hours in the second attempt. In 1987 the hot air balloon 'Virgin Atlantic Flyer' was the first of its kind to cross the Atlantic. 1991 saw a similar record set in a hot-air balloon, this time crossing the Pacific from Japan to Arctic Canada, and in 2004 another record was set crossing the English Channel in an amphibious vehicle in just one hour and 40 minutes.
It hasn't always been plain sailing though for the UK entrepreneur. His attempt to circumnavigate the globe by balloon in 1998 didn't hit the mark, and in 2008 he and his children made an unsuccessful attempt at an eastbound record crossing of the Atlantic ocean under the sail of 'Virgin Money.' Then in March of this year he was caught short again attempting the world record of putting a round of golf in the dark at the Black Light Mini Golf course in the Docklands Melbourne, succeeding in only getting 41 on the par 45 course.
So with his latest target on setting a record for the oldest person to kitesurfing the English Channel from Dungeness RNLI station in Kent to France, there was a sense of urgency for the big man to pull off something special.
Joining him on the journey would be his son and daughter, Sam and Holly, former world champion Aaron Hadlow, world racing champ Steph Bridge, and seven other kiters keen on making the voyage. There was six safety boats that were also set to complete the crossing, but these were solely for the support of the kiters if any problems arose. Add a couple of press boats, a helicopter, and some local fisherman who seemed to have picked the perfect days to see what was happening at the beach, and the Dungeness RNLI station was transformed into a busy compilation of the rich, the famous, and the media, including KW Assist. Ed Ash Phelps.
In the end the Branson's made two attempts on crossing the Channel on the Tuesday and on the Wednesday. The Tuesday saw an early attempt at 7am, but rough seas and high winds proved to be a stumbling block. To the frustration to Sir Richard, he was asked to turn back after the extreme weather conditions were playing havoc with the rescue boats. He managed to get a very respectable five miles from shore before surrendering to the orders.
Returning to the beach it was clear that things were only going to get rougher throughout the rest of the day and that a crossing would certainly be off the cards. Step up Aaron Hadlow who provided a slick display of skills only a few metres from shore to keep the media happy and turn the frowns around. Joining him was Flexifoil's Martyn Hogg, who along with company head Anthony Van Dort had helped organise the whole event with Virgin Active. It was then announced that afternoon that a second attempt would be made for the crossing on the Wednesday.
Expectation was weighing down heavily for the second attempt to be successful. Unfortunately though from a Tuesday that provided too much wind, the Wednesday barely produced any with only six knots topping the scale in the morning with only a slight rise in the afternoon.
Sir Richard was adamant things would perk up and every half hour or so got his kite in the air and went into the water in an attempt to get going. It was obvious though that things weren't changing and shortly after Steph Bridge took to the water and struggled herself, the second crossing attempt was called off.
The crowds on the beach spelt out the word 'BOO' for the reporters filming from the helicopter before rushing into the sea to make sure everyone got their hair wet at least once.
For now then the record is still open but already over dinner with Sir Richard he mentioned his determination to attempt the crossing again within the month.
Thanks must go to Virgin Active and Flexifoil for putting together a fantastic event. It may have been a tale of two halves with the wind, but all around it was great to see that the Branson fire is still burning strong and that he is helping to promote our sport to the world.
We'll keep you updated with news of the third attempt at the crossing as soon as we get word.
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