Forty-footers were considered 'big' boats when the BVI Spring Regatta & Sailing Festival started four decades ago. This year, Sir Richard Branson's 105-foot luxury cruising catamaran Necker Belle, earned the distinction of being the largest multihull to ever pierce a Spring Regatta start line.
"We didn't so much enter her for the 40th anniversary as she was in transit from the yard in Australia this time last year," says billionaire adventurer, Branson. "Instead, we wanted to enter to highlight the British Virgin Islands as a spectacular destination to sail."
Necker Belle, which started life as Lady Barbaretta in 2003, underwent an extensive two-year refit at Azzura Marine in Australia, launched in 2009 and spent a summer chartering in the Med before arriving at its permanent home in the British Virgin Islands last fall. The luxurious yacht won't be heading back to the Mediterranean.
"Necker Belle is available for charter in the Caribbean year-round," says Capt. Richard Kellett, who operates the spectacular four-stateroom vessel with its six crew and ultimate water toy – a three-person aero submarine – for the price tag of $100,000 per week.
The yacht is one of Branson's privately-owned collection of luxury retreats, which include his 74-acre Necker Island in North Sound, as well as a private game reserve in South Africa, ski lodge in Switzerland, and palatial hotel in Morocco – to name a few.
This, however, isn't the first year Branson has sailed in the BVI Spring Regatta.
BVI veteran sailor, Dr. Robin Tattersall, explains: "I invited Richard; he wasn't Sir then, out the year (1997) the Moorings bought the J/120s. I chartered one to race and invited Richard to crew along with about four other 20-somethings. Later that day, I dropped him off at the dock as he had a previous engagement for the evening. After he left, the other crew asked who he was and I told them. They all gasped when they realized because they'd been yelling at him and telling him what to do all day."
Branson was firmly at the helm of Necker Belle this year. He sailed both in the Sailing Festival and on the Saturday of the BVI Spring Regatta, before flying out to Newport Beach, California, where he unveiled his new single-person submarine on April 5, intent to set several world records by diving to deepest depths of the world's oceans including the Atlantic's Puerto Rico Trench.
Speaking after finishing second in the Sailing Festival's Nanny Cay Cup, Branson said: "We ripped Big Red (the colorful spinnaker which flies from the 124-foot tall mast), so we have a lot to learn. But, its great fun to participate and although we're not a serious race boat, it was lovely to get up to fifteen and a half knots – and then really take off."
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.