Richard the Lionheart
Words Robbie Stammers
Most people know Sir Richard Branson, British business magnate and investor, as the founder of the Virgin Group of more than 400 companies and who has an estimated wealth of US$6 billion – but did you know he is also a seasoned record-breaker, having made history after securing three new titles in the new Guinness World Records 2014 Edition? Robbie Stammers looks at his intrepid feats outside of the business realm.
Sir Richard Branson might have conquered the business world, but it certainly seems that his biggest passion lies in the near impossible challenges on land, air and sea which really get his blood racing.
The British entrepreneur has undertaken many intrepid adventures over the last two decades and has just added a new Guinness World Record to his tally, having become the oldest person to cross the English Channel by kiteboard.
The 63-year-old achieved the kiteboarding record after crossing from Dymchurch, Kent to Wimereux in northern France in three hours and 45 minutes in July 2012.
Branson was then challenged by friend and champion kitesurfer, Susi Mai, to take kitesurfing to a whole new level. On Necker Island, they set out to see how many people they could get up on a kitesurf board at one time.
After successfully equalling the current Guinness World Record title for three people riding a kiteboard, Richard and Susi set their sights on adding a new title to his extraordinary list of record achievements including leading 318 kitesurfers to break the record for the largest parade of kitesurfers to surf over a mile in September 2013.
Recruiting from the team on Necker Island, Branson and friends then achieved ‘four up’ on a kiteboard at one time, setting a new Guinness World Record title for ‘Most people riding a kitesurf board’.
Apparently, he has already set his sights on getting a bigger board and going for five up. Guinness World Records editor-in-chief Craig Glenday said, “We enjoy working with Richard on his quests to add further records to his already growing list and we’re delighted to announce that he has achieved another one! His passion for kitesurfing as well as oceanic-related records is truly inspiring and we eagerly await what he has planned for the future”.
The new titles are the latest in a long line of record-breaking achievements set by the multimillionaire. It all began back in 1985, when Branson attempted the fastest Atlantic Ocean crossing by boat.
His first attempt in the Virgin Atlantic Challenger led to the boat sinking in British waters and a rescue by Royal Air Force helicopter, which received wide media coverage.
In 1986, in his Virgin Atlantic Challenger II, with sailing expert Daniel McCarthy, he beat the record by two hours.
A year later, his hot-air balloon, Virgin Atlantic Flyer, crossed the Atlantic. Branson and Per Lindstrand were the first to cross the Atlantic in a hot-air balloon rather than a helium/gas-filled one. They flew a distance of 2 900 miles (more than 4 600 kilometres) in a record-setting time of 33 hours. At the time, the balloon envelope they used was the largest ever flown, at 2.3 million cubic feet (over 65 000 cubic metres) of capacity.
A year later, Lindstrand set yet another record, this time for the highest solo flight ever recorded in a hot-air balloon – 65 000 feet (almost 20km).
The great team of Branson and Lindstrand paired up again in 1991 and became the first to cross the Pacific in a hot-air balloon. They travelled 6 700 miles (10 783km) in 46 hours and 15 minutes from Japan to Canada, breaking the world distance record, travelling at speeds of up to 245 miles per hour (almost 400km/h).
The bearded billionaire just could not get enough of the adventurous lifestyle and his next challenge was to set a record for circumnavigating the globe in a hot-air balloon. This proved a step too far, however.
In the late 1990s Branson, Lindstrand and Steve Fossett made three failed attempts at round-the-world balloon flights. On the third attempt, made in December 1998, they travelled some 8 200 miles (13 197km), becoming the first to fly across the whole of Asia in a hot-air balloon, before being forced down off Hawaii and having to jump to safety.
Branson later helped fund Fossett’s record-setting flight in 2005, in which he completed the first solo non-stop circumnavigation of the world in an airplane.
“I have done Trans-Atlantic speedboating, hot-air ballooning and kite surfing. Space adventure is still to come though, ironically, it may be the least dangerous thing on the list!"
Sir Branson then must have decided it was perhaps time to shelve his record-breaking feats for a while but, still in the role of an intrepid explorer, he set his sights on a game lodge in South Africa: Ulusaba.
Ulusaba Private Game Reserve is located in the heart of the Sabi Sand game Reserve on the border of the Kruger National Park. I have had the pleasure of staying at this 13 500-hectare private reserve and, believe me, you immediately know you’re in for something really special when you get there.
And your first sight of Ulusaba’s Rock Lodge and Cliff Lodge will only confirm this. Clinging to a high hill, like something out of a fairy kingdom, the lodges promise incredible views and sightings of the Big 5.
When Branson is not flying around the world, or on his own private island, Necker, he can apparently be found right here in South Africa. In fact his son, Sam, got married at Ulusaba last year and it was also one of the places Branson, his daughter, Holly and Sam, trained before successfully completing the London marathon in 2010.
However let us go back to 2004. You can’t keep a good man down, as they say, and Branson was soon back to achieving more record-breaking feats. By June 2004, he set yet another world record, this time for the fastest crossing of the English Channel in an amphibious craft. Using a Gibbs Aquada, he eclipsed the previous fastest recorded crossing time of six hours by more than four hours.
Never missing an opportunity to tie his thrill-seeking with his business objectives, Branson immediately announced that Virgin Airlines would offer some of its Upper-Class passengers the chance to experience the Gibbs Aquada when travelling to and from London’s Heathrow Airport, enabling them to beat the traffic by taking the Thames.
As a kid Branson loved reading Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and was enraptured by its sense of adventure and mystery.
So what do you do when money is no object? You get a team to design and build a three-man submarine, which Branson christened Necker Nymph and based it at his island.
“The Nymph has been designed specifically for us and it can ‘fly’ to about 100 feet below the ocean’s surface, performing twists and turns, which allow us to keep up with turtles, dolphins, whales and giant spotted eagle rays.”
Branson says that in time, the Nymph will be followed by new generations of subs able to get far further down than people have ever been before. I am sure this is another potential record-breaking feat for his future.
It was also in 2004 that he decided ‘the sky was not the limit’, and invested in Virgin Galactic. I suppose once you’ve conquered pretty much everything there is to accomplish on air, land and sea, you reach for the stars.
Branson has reiterated his plan to fly with his children on the inaugural flight of his long-planned commercial space operation, despite the relatively untested nature of the technology and a departure date that has slipped to the end of this year, hopefully.
“Everybody who signs up knows this is the birth of a new space programme and understands the risks that go with that,” Branson said in an interview from Virgin Galactic’s base in the Mojave Desert, north of Los Angeles. “But every person wants to go on the first flight, and my kids and I will be there.”
I have no doubt that if anyone can pull this off, it will be Sir Richard Branson. The Intrepid Explorer wishes him well on his quest to conquer space and, even though the famous saying from Star Trek hails space as “the final frontier”, something tells me this will not be the last adventure we can expect from Bold Branson.
Source: The Intrepid Explorer