Richard Branson steps off the dock at Penno's Wharf, St George's.
Richard Branson steps off the dock at Penno's Wharf, St George's.
Billionaire businessman Richard Branson was forced to ditch his world record Atlantic crossing attempt and divert to Bermuda after gale force winds ripped the main sail of his mega yacht.

The owner of Virgin Airways and Virgin Megastores had been attempting to break the trans-Atlantic record by sailing from New York to the southern tip of the UK in less than six days, 17hours, 52 minutes and 39 seconds.

But despite the assistance of a 'dream team' of Americas Cup and Olympic sailors, including three-time gold medalist Ben Ainslee, the crew hit heavy weather just half an hour outside of New York.

With 40-foot waves crashing over the bright red 99-foot yacht, emblazoned with the slogan Virgin Money, the spinnaker and main sail ripped and a lifeboat lost, Branson took the decision to abort the record attempt and seek safe harbour in St George's.

Stepping off the dock at Penno's Wharf last night with his son Sam, 22, and daughter Holly, 25, at his side, the world famous entrepreneur beamed: "We'll fix up the boat and give it another go in three weeks time."

Looking surprisingly fresh Mr Branson added: "We won't give up. We've got the most professional crew in the world. They are spectacular sailors and it was a pleasure to sail with them."

He said the damage to the boat had been partly down to the speeds it was trying to achieve.

"It was a combination of the sheer speed and the buffeting the boat was taking. The weather became bad within half an hour of leaving New York and it stayed that way for 36 hours. It was pretty conclusive within an hour that we weren't going to break the record."

But he insisted he was not disappointed.

"I just love the doing and the adventure. Sailing is all about adventure. I've been pulled out of the sea six times by helicopters in the past. I've had to cope with failure - I'm used to it."

He quickly added that he expected the failure to be followed by success with another shot at the record expected either next month or next spring.

"I love adventure, I love to push myself and see what I'm capable of. You only live once, live life to its fullest."

Holly Branson, a doctor accompanying her father on her first 'adventure trip', said it had been an amazing experience.

"It was just an opportunity not to be missed really. If he goes again I'm going to have to be on it."

Ben Ainslee, the British Americas Cup skipper who was in Bermuda last month to compete in the Gold Cup, said: "It was the toughest sailing I've ever done.

"We were pushing it hard and in those sort of conditions it was difficult. We took a big rip in the mainsail and had no prospect of breaking the record.

"It was actually really rough and tough but it was good fun. This boat with this team is capable of breaking the record."