Virgin Atlantic Challenger II – Extra Info
Richard Branson’s first Virgin Atlantic Challenge sank.
Branson’s second attempt was more successful although he was not awarded the Hales Trophy.
Richard Branson, now Sir Richard Branson narrowly succeeded on this his second attempt at the record for the fastest powered Atlantic crossing after problems with fuel filters that the Irish Navy managed to sort out for him.
His first boat sank.
Richard Branson considered the world wide publicity the 2 attempts generated more than paid for his tilt at the Atlantic record and the Hales Trophy for the Blue Ribband of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Blue Ribband was awarded to the ship that made the fastest commercial transatlantic crossing.
The two ships that held the Blue Ribband for longest were the Cunard express liner ‘Mauritania‘ (featured on this web site, and the SS United States, the latter being built with the record very much in mind.
The award is based on average speed rather than shortest elapsed time because the transatlantic routes vary in length.
The gallant paddle steamer Sirius made the first powered crossing of the Atlantic taking 19 days, often in bad weather from Queenstown (Cobh) to New York (see Sirius – and the Blue Ribband of the Atlantic ) narrowly beating ‘The Great Western‘ a ship designed and built by the renowned engineer, Isambard K. Brunel.
At that time commercial sailing ships race the North Atlantic usually taking 21 days.
The Cunard line “Mauretania” (we still have a few copies of the limited edition print of her maiden departure – see “The Mauretania, Cunard Express Liner” ) held the award for longer than any other ship until the SS Unites States.
The artist attended at the invitation of Tamzin Mitchell of Radio Cornwall and with the press, waited for 2 days at St Mary’s, Isle of Scilly.
While the press did what they do best while waiting, Gordon Frickers produced 2 beautiful oil sketches of the port of St Mary, each a view looking into the other and happily, sold as a pair (Now in a collection in Brest, France).
Eventually Gordon Frickers became one of the few present on the Fleet Street press boat on a choppy and squally evening as Virgin Challenger II passed the traditional finishing line at Bishops Rock Lighthouse.
Virgin Challenger II having made the (then) fastest powered Transatlantic crossing to date.
Frickers was the only photographer who managed to get colour shots on that damp rough evening, a set of which are in the National Maritime Museum archive at Greenwich, London.
The Artist produced a watercolour on the spot of his impression and completed it that evening during the press conference.
It was signed on the reverse by all the crew (he still has it) and within a week he produced this dashing oil painting for an exhibition in Plymouth.
Both Sir Richard Branson and Chay Blyth are clearly recognisable in the painting.
Later the oil painting was taken to London at the request of Richard Branson who subsequently bought the original, copyright remains with the artist.
His Atlantic dash was a considerable achievement, however Branson was not given the converted “Blue Ribband of the Atlantic”, his boat being considered a ‘toy’ not a commercial ship.
That remaind with the SS United States, to this day, still the fastest of commercial transatlantic liners, queens of the ocean.