Iconic record-breaking boat that made Branson a household name being sold for £725,000 after being saved from a scrapyard

  • In 1986 Branson smashed world record for fastest ever crossing of Atlantic on 72ft Virgin Atlantic Challenger II
  • Sir Richard shaved two hours off the existing record with his time of three days, eight hours and 31 minutes
  • But boat was discovered rotting in a Spanish boatyard by sailing enthusiast Dan Steven who bought and restored it
  • He spent around 1,000 man hours and £500,000 into getting the boat up and running again - and now will sell it

The record-breaking powerboat that made Sir Richard Branson a household name is being sold for £725,000 after it was discovered rotting in a Spanish boatyard. 

In 1986, the tycoon made history, smashing the world record for the fastest ever crossing of the Atlantic on the 72ft Virgin Atlantic Challenger II.

Then aged 36, and just two years after he had launched his own airline, Sir Richard shaved two hours off the existing record with his time of three days, eight hours and 31 minutes - launching his reputation as an adventurer.

But soon after, the £1.5m boat was sold to a Middle Eastern sheik in the late 80s and then spent the next 25 years languishing in a boatyard on the Spanish holiday island of Mallorca. 

In 1986, Sir Richard Branson made history, smashing the world record for the fastest ever crossing of the Atlantic on the 72ft Virgin Atlantic Challenger II

In 1986, Sir Richard Branson made history, smashing the world record for the fastest ever crossing of the Atlantic on the 72ft Virgin Atlantic Challenger II

The record-breaking powerboat that made Sir Richard Branson a household name is being sold for £725,000. It was restored after being discovered rotting in a Spanish boatyard

The record-breaking powerboat that made Sir Richard Branson a household name is being sold for £725,000. It was restored after being discovered rotting in a Spanish boatyard

Branson (front left) and the crew after breaking the transatlantic record in 1986. Sir Richard teamed up with the six-strong crew including round the world yachtsman Sir Chay Blyth (front right) to beat the record from New York to Bishop Rock off the Isles of Scilly by two hours

Branson (front left) and the crew after breaking the transatlantic record in 1986. Sir Richard teamed up with the six-strong crew including round the world yachtsman Sir Chay Blyth (front right) to beat the record from New York to Bishop Rock off the Isles of Scilly by two hours

Branson was reunited with the boat in 2014. The £1.5m boat was sold to a Middle Eastern sheik in the late 80s but then spent the next 25 years languishing in a boatyard on the Spanish holiday island of Mallorca until boat-mad Dan Stevens (front right) stumbled across it in 2012

Branson was reunited with the boat in 2014. The £1.5m boat was sold to a Middle Eastern sheik in the late 80s but then spent the next 25 years languishing in a boatyard on the Spanish holiday island of Mallorca until boat-mad Dan Stevens (front right) stumbled across it in 2012

Former Merchant Navy office Dan Stevens stumbled across the rotting craft in 2012. He was looking round a boatyard in Mallorca when he recognised the fading red paintwork and Virgin logos and decided to take a closer look.

Incredibly he found the interior piled high with charts and maps - almost exactly as Branson left it after smashing the world record. He bought it, and fixed its 2,000hp engines before bringing it back to his boat yard in Plymouth, Devon.

The 72ft boat - worth £1.5million - as it was discovered languishing in a marina in Majorca until it was spotted by sailing fanatic Mr Stevens

The 72ft boat - worth £1.5million - as it was discovered languishing in a marina in Majorca until it was spotted by sailing fanatic Mr Stevens

He was looking round a boatyard in Mallorca when he recognised the fading red paintwork and Virgin logos and decided to take a closer look

He was looking round a boatyard in Mallorca when he recognised the fading red paintwork and Virgin logos and decided to take a closer look

He found the interior almost exactly as Branson left it after smashing the world record. He bought it, and fixed its 2,000hp engines before bringing it back to his boat yard in Plymouth, Devon

He found the interior almost exactly as Branson left it after smashing the world record. He bought it, and fixed its 2,000hp engines before bringing it back to his boat yard in Plymouth, Devon

There it underwent a transformation costing several hundred thousand pounds, and after restoring it to its former glory Mr Stevens has now put the boat up for sale.

Despite its record-breaking history the boat has less than 1,000 engine hours on the clock - and Mr Stevens says he hopes it will stay in the UK and be preserved for future generations.

Mr Stevens, 41, said he has poured around 1,000 man hours and £500,000 into getting the boat up and running again.

He said: 'It's a one off. This is the boat that put Branson on the map.

'I'm boat-mad, and two years ago I stumbled across Virgin Atlantic Challenger II rotting in a boatyard in Palma, Mallorca.

Mr Stevens (right) said that when he discovered the boat, it was in line to be chopped up into parts. 'It was going to get chopped up and I couldn't let that happen. It's part of Britain's maritime history and it had to be saved, so I bought it'

Mr Stevens (right) said that when he discovered the boat, it was in line to be chopped up into parts. 'It was going to get chopped up and I couldn't let that happen. It's part of Britain's maritime history and it had to be saved, so I bought it'

The cockpit on the boat had been kept just the same over the years. Dan, 41, a former merchant navy officer from Plymouth, snapped it up and has since poured around 1,000 man hours and £500,000 into getting the boat up and running again

The cockpit on the boat had been kept just the same over the years. Dan, 41, a former merchant navy officer from Plymouth, snapped it up and has since poured around 1,000 man hours and £500,000 into getting the boat up and running again

Despite its record-breaking history the boat has less than 1,000 engine hours on the clock - and Mr Stevens says he hopes it will stay in the UK and be preserved for future generations

Despite its record-breaking history the boat has less than 1,000 engine hours on the clock - and Mr Stevens says he hopes it will stay in the UK and be preserved for future generations

Former Merchant Navy office Dan Stevens stumbled across the rotting craft in 2012. He has since restored it to its former glory

Former Merchant Navy office Dan Stevens stumbled across the rotting craft in 2012. He has since restored it to its former glory

'It was going to get chopped up and I couldn't let that happen. It's part of Britain's maritime history and it had to be saved, so I bought it.

'I fixed the engines and brought it back from Palma to my boatyard in Plymouth, then set about carrying out a full restoration.

'I can't really justify keeping the boat so I've put it up for sale. Fingers crossed it will be bought by a private buyer or even a maritime trust that will keep it in the UK.'

THE BOAT THAT LAUNCHED A BILLIONAIRE TYCOON 

Virgin Atlantic Challenger II was commissioned by Richard Branson for his tilt at the Blue Riband Transatlantic Challenge.

His first attempt a year earlier in 1985 had ended in disaster when the first Challenger sank off the coast of Cornwall.

In 1986 Sir Richard teamed up with a six-strong crew including round the world yachtsman Sir Chay Blyth to beat the record from New York to Bishop Rock off the Isles of Scilly by two hours.

Virgin Atlantic Challenger II can hit a top speed of 52 knots - just under 60mph - and can carry 12 passengers and two crew. It weighs 47 tonnes and can carry an enormous 14 tonnes of diesel fuel in its tanks.

Sir Richard was reunited with Virgin Atlantic Challenger II last year when he and his original crew sailed it with Dan from Plymouth to Fowey and back.

In his most recent blog Sir Richard wrote: 'I had thought Challenger II was gone from British waters for good, after it was sold to a sultan years before.

'Then Dan Stevens found the boat abandoned in Majorca and set about restoring its former glory.

'Last year we went on a trip down memory lane by getting the crew back together on board the original Virgin Atlantic Challenger II.

'We travelled from Plymouth to Fowey and back again on the historic boat and enjoyed a perfect day with blue skies and cheering crowds to wave us on.

'Now Dan is putting the renovated boat up for sale.

'I love Challenger II not only because it is a beautiful boat, but as it gave us a platform to challenge ourselves, push boundaries and embrace the spirit of adventure.

'I hope whoever buys it is keen for more explorations on the high seas.'

Sir Richard's first attempt to break the TransAtlantic record was in the Challenger I, which capsized, receiving widespread media coverage, in 1985

Heartbreakingly, the 32-ton vessel overturned just 140 miles short of its target, the Isles of Scilly off Cornwall, and was on-track to break the record. It took just six minutes to sink, and the crew was forced to scramble to safety.

As he was rescued he saw a copy of the Daily Mail, which featured a copy of his baby son Sam, now 27:

'As I got on (the rescue boat) I saw a copy of the Daily Mail and it had a picture my newly-born son, who I hadn't actually seen.'

The crew were spotted floating in life boats by helicopters from the Royal Navy air station at Culdrose, Cornwall.

They were picked up by a passing ship and airlifted to hospital.

 

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