On board the America’s Cup

Thrilled to be in New York City yesterday, to join the Land Rover BAR team for the America’s Cup World Series. When my friend, legendary British sailor, Sir Ben Ainslie invited me to be the crew’s 6th man I jumped at the chance. I knew it would be an initiation of fire, but also a lot of fun.

Richard Branson and Ben Ainslie America's Cup New York Land Rover BAR

After being briefed by Lady Georgie Ainslie, the sailors presented me with my own personalised team t-shirt, and I took my position on the back of the catamaran. We were absolutely screaming through the water, but conditions were less than ideal. At times it was like being in a washing machine, then all of a sudden coming to a shuddering halt.

Richard Branson and Ben Ainslie America's Cup New York Land Rover BAR
Richard Branson and Ben Ainslie America's Cup New York Land Rover BAR

After about 20 minutes, the extremely tough conditions got even worse. Ben turned to me and said: “Richard, I’m sorry but I can’t have you on the boat anymore, it’s just too risky.” I reluctantly agreed and went to the chase boat to watch the races.

Richard Branson and Ben Ainslie America's Cup New York Land Rover BAR
Richard Branson and Ben Ainslie America's Cup New York Land Rover BAR

It was a day of constantly shifting and dying breezes, meaning that any team could have won – which is exactly what happened. The British team were superb, but had some bad luck. They had been in position for a race win, when the wind completely died and they began to drift off course. Then a series of unexpected wind changes catapulted Emirates Team New Zealand from dead last, to win both the race and the regatta. Land Rover BAR ended up coming fifth in the race and fifth overall in the event – a frustrating result after a succession of brilliant starts. Of course, I told Ben: “If you’d kept me on board the whole time we would have won every race – I’m a jammy bastard!”

Richard Branson and Ben Ainslie America's Cup New York Land Rover BAR

While the team didn’t get the result that they’d hoped for it was a tremendous experience for me. I got a taste of how the America’s Cup boats behave; and as you can see from my smile in these pictures I had a wonderful time out on the water, waving to the big crowds that lined the shore, against a backdrop of Manhattan’s glistening skyscrapers. I was so impressed by the strength, athleticism and teamwork of the crew, and came away very inspired.

Richard Branson and Ben Ainslie America's Cup New York Land Rover BAR
Richard Branson and Ben Ainslie America's Cup New York Land Rover BAR

I’ve done a lot of sailing in my life but this experience was unique and totally exhilarating. The last time I was on a boat with Ben, the team on Necker had to rescue him after he got into a spot of trouble just off the Island. And the time before that we were hurtled across the Atlantic by a hurricane with Holly and Sam in-tow. These days I enjoy scenic sails around the BVI on the Necker Belle or fun hobie-cat races from Necker to Moskito, dressed in my favourite pirate attire.

Richard Branson and Ben Ainslie America's Cup New York Land Rover BAR

It was a dramatic weekend of racing all round, as on Friday evening and in the early hours on Saturday morning, The Transat bakerly skippers faced their toughest night of the 3,050-mile race yet. The fleet was shaken by a deep depression sweeping across the Atlantic, but braving 35 to 45 knots of wind, came through the other side with no major casualties. That’s one race where I’d prefer to be a spectator!

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