Ben Ainslie sets the record straight after his "rescue" by Richard Branson
The press had a field day when five-time Olympic medalist and America's Cup hero Ben Ainslie called for help during his sailing honeymoon. Boat International contributing editor Ainslie had run into trouble off Necker Island in the Caribbean and was “rescued” by Richard Branson's Necker staff, as his chartered yacht reportedly drifted close to a nearby reef.
Richard Branson's blog reported in detail on the incident and news outlets worldwide followed up the story, enjoying the fact that even the greatest sailors on the planet need assistance once in a while.
Social media also went into overdrive, with commentators observing, with some cynicism, that there could be few better islands to require assistance from. Sir Richard's blog about the incident makes clear the serious mechanical problem was in no way Ainslie's fault. The mainsail had become so twisted that it could not be brought up or down the mast, or furled in or out along the boom.
Ainslie exclusively told Boat International, "The mainsail furling unit broke. We could only fix it by hoisting someone up to the top of the mast. We were not in any danger but clearly needed help to fix the breakdown. The guys from Necker watersports were fantastic and we are very grateful to Richard and all of the Necker team for their help and hospitality."
His spokesman clarified things further, saying, "Rescued is really the wrong word. With only Ben and his wife on board it was difficult for Ben to go aloft to fix the problem. He radioed the island and the guys from the watersports centre came out to provide a couple more pairs of hands to help fix it."
Ben and wife Georgie Thompson, who married in Hampton Court Palace last month, remained on Necker, one of the British Virgin Islands, for a few days courtesy of Branson. This wasn't Branson's and Ainslie's first meeting as the Virgin boss sailed with Ainslie on an unsuccessful transatlantic record attempt in 2008.
The billionaire blogged, “Many congratulations to Ben and Georgie on their marriage and we wish you both a lifetime of happiness, on land and sea!”
Thompson, who hosts Fighting Talk on BBC Radio 5 live, later tweeted her thanks, saying, “Worse things have happened on honeymoon.”
As well as winning five Olympic gold medals in different dinghy classes, in 2013 Ainslie led one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time when Oracle Team USA beat Team New Zealand in a dramatic 9-8 finish in the America's Cup.
Ben announced an America's Cup bid for Great Britain in June last year. He writes about his personal connection with Bermuda, which will be hosting the 2017 America's Cup, in the February issue of Boat International, on sale now.
Some of the team of watersports instructors who helped Ainslie featured in BBC2's fly-on-the-wall documentary Billionaire's Paradise: Necker Island, screened in the UK in January.