Sailing fanatic buys Sir Richard Branson’s forgotten yacht… after finding it rusting in a Spanish boatyard
A sailing fanatic has bought Sir Richard Branson’s record-breaking Virgin Atlantic Challenger II – after he found it languishing in a Spanish boatyard.
Merchant navy officer Dan Stevens stumbled upon the tycoon’s long-forgotten £1.5m vessel in Majorca.
Branson used the massive craft in 1986 to cross the Atlantic in three days, eight hours and 31 minutes – two hours faster than the previous record.
But 25 years later Dan was looking round a boatyard when he recognised the fading red paintwork and Virgin logos and decided to take a closer look at the 72ft craft.
Incredibly he found the interior piled high with charts and maps – almost exactly as Branson left it after smashing the world record.
Dan, of Plymouth, Devon, bought the boat and will now renovate it and then sail it back to Britain to be fully restored.
He has refused to reveal how much he spent on the boat – but its worth is listed on various boating websites as £250,000.
He said: “I’m bonkers about boats. Most people probably thought it had been scrapped but it’s here and I’ve been in it and it’s fantastic.
“It is like stepping back in time. Everything is original. There are old papers, the ‘nav’ gear, Virgin Airways cabin livery and upholstery and even original charts.
“I couldn’t let it get chopped up. Somebody had to take this on and try and get it back home. It’s a piece of British maritime history.”
The vessel was commissioned by Sir Richard Branson for the historic Blue Riband Transatlantic Challenge.
His first attempt a year earlier in 1985 had ended in disaster – with the Challenger I sinking off the coast of Cornwall.
But in 1986 in his Virgin Atlantic Challenger II, with sailing expert Daniel McCarthy, he beat the record by two hours.
Despite the crossing he was denied the official ‘Blue Riband’ trophy by the trustees of the award because they said he made the trip in a “toy boat” rather than an ocean liner.
It is believed the Challenger II was sold by Virgin Media in the late 1980s to a sultan whose coat of arms still adorns the 98 kph craft – which has only chalked up a modest 810 hours of seafaring despite its fame.
Since then it had spent about seven years moored in the Spanish port accumulating storage fees until Mr Stevens, a ferry company boss, found it.
Dan is now flying out a crew within days to carry out a basic refit to make her seaworthy and bring her home.
The boat’s engines still work and he intends to skipper Challenger II almost 1,500 nautical miles back to Britain for a full restoration.
He said: “This is the iconic powerboat of the 1980s. Sir Richard’s crossing of the Atlantic, heading out past the Statue of Liberty, speeding past the finish line at the Isles of Scilly captured my imagination.
“To think we now have the chance to bring Challenger home and restore her is great. It’s going to be an eventful journey but an exciting one, which is probably fitting for a boat with her history.
“I don’t want to say yet what we’ve got planned for her. The first step is bringing her home.”
Dan said he is planning to spend at least £200,000 restoring the Virgin Atlantic Challenger II to its former glory.
Mr Stevens, 39, did not disclose the exact price he paid for the legendary powerboat but said it was close to the £250,000 asking price.
Sailing back to the UK will cost him as much as £30,000 in diesel while servicing the two engines could cost as much as £170,000.
Mr Stevens, who restores boats for a living at his Seahawk Workboats business on the River Plym in Devon, will reduce the engine capacity to make it more cost-efficient but will keep enough power for the boat to enter races.
He said: “It might seem a lot of money but Britain is a great seafaring nation and this is a part of its history.
“I’m going to be very sympathetic to the original and keep everything the way it was.
“If Sir Richard would like to come down for a ride on the Challenger II once it’s fully restored, he would be more than welcome.”