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1986: Branson beats Atlantic speed record

Millionaire Richard Branson has smashed the world record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic.

His 72-ft powerboat, the Virgin Atlantic Challenger, reached the Bishop Rock off the Isles of Scilly just after 1930BST.

Mr Branson completed the voyage more than two hours faster than the previous record-holder, the SS United States, which has held the title since 1952.

The Challenger's successful crossing came in spite of problems with the fuel system.

Her voyage was closely monitored from an operation room in London, where tension mounted as the 1.5m powerboat headed for the finishing line at more than 50 knots. Mr Branson's voice was relayed over the radio, keeping the team up-to-date on his progress.

Triumphant

It took the Challenger one hour from the finishing line to reach the island of St Mary's, where crowds were waiting in their hundreds in spite of the pouring rain.

After three days at sea, Branson, the head of a multi-million-pound airline and record empire, arrived triumphant - before being pushed into the Atlantic by his crew for a joke.

In London the champagne flowed, but it is still not certain whether the team will be able to claim the Blue Riband, the trophy awarded to the American boat in 1952.

The prize currently resides in a New York maritime museum, and the final decision on the Challenger's claim appears to lie with the museum and trustees of the trophy.

In Context
Richard Branson's first attempt to cross the Atlantic in 1985 followed the launch of his Virgin Atlantic airline.

The voyage was a failure, his boat sinking off Land's End, but his second attempt the following year brought him recognition and publicity.

But he was denied the Blue Riband by the trustees of the award because he had broken two rules of the competition - he had stopped to refuel and his vessel did not have a commercial maritime purpose.

The SS United States' record was not broken until 1990, when the 74m catamaran Hoverspeed Great Britain completed the crossing with an average speed of 36.65 knots.


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