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Launching the Virgin Trophy

Over the years I have always enjoyed the thrill of a challenge and the spirit of adventure.

In 1985 I competed to achieve the fastest Atlantic crossing in the Virgin Atlantic Challenger. The crossing was very eventful and the boat eventually capsized (I've spent quite a lot of time in the water over the years!) but undaunted I tried again the following year and achieved my goal winning the Blue Riband with Challenger II.

I'd caught the bug! So in 1986 my Virgin Atlantic Flyer became the first hot air balloon to cross the Atlantic, reaching speeds of over 130 miles per hour. Encouraged by our success I went on to set more records including achieving the first hot air balloon crossing of the Pacific. All of these amazing challenges had their moments of "what on earth am I doing this for! My wife is going to kill me if I get out of this alive.” 

Having crossed two major oceans, in the late 90s we thought we’d take a little jaunt around the world in a balloon! It was an epic battle between teams all trying to achieve one of the few remaining aviation records left on earth. Eventually, after a series of eventful but glorious failures we were beaten to the record by the Breitling team, their capsule is now displayed in the Smithsonian Museum in America along side other aircraft which represent milestones in aviation. Virgin Galactic's prototype craft Spaceship One is displayed in the same hall.

Every record attempt has its magical moments – even when you fail – on our global attempt we were finally brought down two thirds of the way around the world by bad weather somewhere in the Pacific... our hopes dashed with only one and a half days left to go. I'll never forget the wonderful team back at Mission Control on the sat link, all dressed as Santa Clause – cheering that we'd 'almost' got the record!  They'd all given up Xmas Day at home with their families to support us in the record attempt – challenges are always a team effort!

In 2008, together with my kids Sam and Holly, I attempted to break the record for sailing across the Atlantic in the 99 foot sloop Virgin Money. We set off from New York into the teeth of a monster storm which was predicted to speed us across the Ocean. A huge wave put an end to that attempt – we didn’t end up in the water on that attempt but it certainly felt like we did!

Twenty five years after my first attempt to break the Atlantic crossing record, one of the guys who rescued us on the first Atlantic Challenge had the idea to break the record for rowing around Great Britain – surprisingly more difficult than rowing across the Atlantic!  He didn’t want just one team to undertake this treacherous task but to encourage many teams over the next few years to take up the challenge in a race!  He just needed a bit of help in raising awareness and kick-starting some support on a wider level.

This gave me the idea to set up the Virgin Trophy – a prize to be won by anyone who succeeds in such endeavours. Chris Usborne’s GB Row is now the first ever Virgin Trophy challenge.

I very much hope that with the help of the Virgin Trophy, we can encourage teams and individuals to challenge themselves and enjoy the sprit of adventure that I have been fortunate to experience through my escapades.  Good luck to those competing in this event; I will be following your progress with great interest and perhaps a little envy. Let's hope they aren't as prone to swallowing most of the ocean - as I've been in the past – I can assure you it's not pleasant!

 

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