It warms my heart to hear that Cheyenne, nee Playstation, is about to embark on another record-breaking quest. I followed this pace-setting catamaran from her birth in the 1990s and into her run through every major sailing record in the books: 24-hour, Transat, Jules Verne. I even talked my way aboard for an East-West Transatlantic record run, and Steve Fossett, the adventure junkie behind her golden years, was kind enough to send me a World Record certificate after he mowed down yet another mark. My main contributions were making coffee and running sheets…
Cheyenne was a revolutionary sailing vessel, though it seems quaint to think that her first 24-hour record, in 1999, was “just” 580 miles. Today the record stands at 908 miles! And while the maxi-multis are so much faster today, I’ll never forget the feeling of racing past the Canary Islands in flat water, at 36 knots, with every sheet like a steel bar and the boat absolutely creaking and humming with speed. Pure adrenaline.
Over the years that followed, particularly after Fossett went missing in an airplane in 2007, it always made me sad to see Cheyenne sitting abandoned on the hard, and then acting as a mast-less camera platform for the Morning Light project.
But the best boats never die. Today, Cheyenne has a mast and another record-breaking project giving it life. Only, it won’t be Cheyenne itself for the record. The catamaran will serve as mother ship to a Jules Verne fantasy sub. The Virgin Oceanic expedition will be diving to explore the deepest points in the Pacific, Atlantic, Arctic, Southern, and Indian Oceans.
The sub involved is, well, ridiculously cool—a carbon/titanium flying miracle that sometime this year will glide 36,000 feet into the depths of the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in the world’s oceans. The last time a human visited the bottom of this trench was in 1960 in a clunky-looking bathyscaphe called the Trieste that traveled up and down a wire. The Virgin Oceanic sub will fly along the bottom of the trench for 10 kilometers, exploring. I’ll be getting the popcorn.
Cheyenne won’t play the star role, but I’m pretty sure Fossett would be happy to see where this is headed. This record-setting idea happens to be one he himself set in motion —he had a genius for inventing record ideas. And it’s fitting that his adventure-buddy, Sir Richard Branson, is the one stepping forward to bring it on home.
Branson was always the only other adventurer who could match Fossett’s lust for being first—and his world-record collection. Branson is also behind the Virgin Galactic project to take Neil Armstrong wannabes into space. That’s the adventure that’s been getting him the most ink. But Virgin Oceanic is the one to watch; Branson will be piloting the sub to the bottom of the Puerto Rico trench. If you ask me, it’s far more unique and unusual to be cruising the bottom of the world’s oceans than it is to be cruising low Earth orbit. That’s the next frontier, and Cheyenne will be helping humanity get there.