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Chris Welsh

Chris Welsh

Co-Founder/Pilot

Chris is an accomplished entrepreneur, sailor and aviator who recently finished 25,000 miles of intense competitive sailing. Born and raised in Newport Beach, CA, Chris has made five LA-Hawaii crossings and one LA-Tahiti-Tonga-Auckland-Tasmania crossing. These trips included skippering his 65′ (20M) race boat “Ragtime” to winning class in the 2008 Sydney-Hobart Race and winning overall the 2008 LA-Tahiti Transpac Race. Chris also won the 2010 Double Handed Guadalupe Island Race. Chris has raced Ragtime in all west coast venues from San Francisco to Cabo San Lucas.

Adventure travel has included swimming with Great White sharks at Guadalupe Island, several cross country dirtbike trips including two 2,000 mile journeys exploring Baja California and two trips in the dirt from LA to Phoenix.

Chris is also a pilot with Single Engine, Multi-Engine, IFR, Glider, Seaplane and Helicopter ratings and has flown extensively in the Western United States, Alaska and Baja. He has flown his twin engine plane and his helicopter across the continental U.S.

Sir Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson

Co-Founder/Pilot

A seasoned adventurer, Richard has set many world speed records for crossing both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans since 1985 in a variety of craft including sailing yachts, the fastest and largest hot-air balloons, powerboats, and even holds the speed record for crossing the English Channel in an amphibious vehicle. Richard also attempted an around the world balloon flight with the late Steve Fossett. As a child of the moon landing, Richard has dreamed that the experience of Space should be opened to all – so he founded his next big adventure, Virgin Galactic, offering Space Tourism to all. With the founding of Virgin Oceanic, Richard opens up his adventures to the last frontier of our own planet, the bottom of our oceans.

In addition to adventures and when not busy being the chairman of the Virgin Group, Richard also champions a number of humanitarian initiatives including the Virgin Earth Challenge – a $25 million prize to encourage a viable technology which will result in the net removal of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases. He also joined forces with his good friend Peter Gabriel, along with Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel, and Desmond Tutu to announce the formation of The Elders, a group of leaders to contribute their wisdom, independent leadership and integrity to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems. He also is very active on behalf of Virgin Unite, a not-for-profit entrepreneurial foundation, which focuses on entrepreneurial approaches to social and environmental issues.

Alex Tai

Alex Tai

Director, Special Projects, Virgin Group

Trained as a pilot in the UK Royal Air Force, Tai went on to fly executive jets and holds a number of world records for flights with the U.S. adventurer Steve Fossett, including world records for fastest flights both east and west about in class C-1. Tai started his career within Virgin as an airline pilot for Virgin Atlantic. In 1997 he embarked on special projects for Sir Richard Branson. Tai worked on the VIrgin Galactic project from conception. He also helped start Virgin Racing- Virgin’s Formula One team. He now is Virgin’s lead on the Virgin Oceanic project.

Loretta Whitesides

Loretta Whitesides

Science and Project Coordinator

Loretta has degrees in biology from Stanford and Caltech and has been to the bottom of the ocean five times. She was on three Mir dives (deepest dive was 3,519 m) and two Deep Rover dives to film the 3D IMAX movie “Aliens of the Deep,” with director James Cameron. Loretta floats weightless as crew for Zero-G’s 727 aircraft and has worked in the Arctic doing research on plants living in extreme environments. Loretta is passionate about using science and exploration to make a difference for the planet.

Karl Karlsson

Karl Karlsson

Expedition Advisor

Karlsson is an entrepreneur, adventurer, sailor, photographer, documentary filmmaker and passionate diver. He has produced the documentary “Journey to the Pole” featuring SAS Prince Albert II of Monaco’s dog sledding expedition to the North Pole and re-connection with the exploration efforts of his ancestor oceanographer SAS Prince Albert I. Having traveled to the North Pole and sailed across many of our Oceans, and, being devoted to environmental awareness the Virgin Oceanic Expedition seemed a natural next step when approached by his old sailing buddy Chris Welsh. Karlsson serves on the board of a number of multi national corporations. He holds an MBA from Thunderbird and a BA in Communications from CSUF.

Eddie Kisfaludy

Eddie Kisfaludy

Operations Manager

With over 2000 days at sea, Kisfaludy has lead 800 oceanographic excursions around the world doing everything from diving for new biological species, deploying and recovering massive amounts of marine instrumentation, and occasional appearances on natural history TV programming. Eddie is a true ‘jack of all seas’ and was the senior curator of field operations and marine biological collector at Scripps Institution of Oceanography UCSD for 10 years, founding director of the Scientific Boating Safety Association, American Academy of Underwater Sciences SCUBA diver/board member, ROV pilot, licensed US Coast Guard Captain, and FAA Certified Flight Instructor with suborbital astronaut training experience at NASTAR and AGSOL. With a B.S. in marine biology and an impressive safety record, Eddie is a seasoned specialist in marine safety operations and is well known throughout the oceanographic community for making the seemingly impossible become a reality when working on unique projects in the ocean.

Hubie Laugharn

Hubie Laugharn

Expedition Cook and Chief of Morale

A native Californian and University of Southern California alum, Hubie honed his cowboy skills of roping and wrangling on his family cattle ranch in Sonora, Mexico. A lifelong surfer from the age of 5, He has surfed every break from Big Sur to Baja California. Hubie has been a pilot for over 45 years, and has accumulated over 3,000 hours. He was a test pilot for Renton Aviation, Seattle, WA. Hubie is an adventurer who has logged hours in float planes all around Alaska and North of the Arctic Circle to the Alaskan Sea. Hubie logged a dirtbike trek from Tijuana to LaPaz, Mexico in the early 70′s, and has swam with great white sharks near Guadalupe Island, Baja California. He has accumulated over 22,000 open ocean racing miles crewing on the racing yacht Ragtime including three LA to Honolulu Transpac races and winning the LA to Tahiti Transpac Race.

Chris Hames

Chris Hames

Sub Wrangler/Web Guy

Chris got his B.S. in geology (specializing in volcanology) at the University of Hawaii, Hilo and has always harbored a love for the sea. He is a certified advanced scuba diver with specialties in Nitrox and equipment repair, a talented IT handyman, and an accomplished photographer. He has sailed on boats both large and small, and participated in research cruises conducting sonar studies of the seafloor. He is very excited about working with a new platform with which to observe an mostly unexplored new environment.

Charlie Welsh

Charlie Welsh

Sub Wrangler/Dinghy Op’s

At age 8 Charlie started racing sail boats. Now a high school freshman, Charlie represents his school racing in the highest fleet. Charlie has crewed on Ragtime for many day buoy races and several ocean races. This summer he is looking forward to sailing in the Bi-Annual Trans-Pacific Ocean race, a race from Los Angeles to Hawaii aboard Ragtime. At age 15 Charlie will be one of the youngest competitors racing. He is volunteering on board the cat to help with expedition preparations.

Doug Welsh

Doug Welsh

Newport Beach Base Manager

Born and raised in Newport Beach, Doug is helping to coordinate Southern California logistics for the Expedition. He is a lifelong sailor and has sailed to the LA-Hawaii Transpac Race twice as well as many trips racing on the California and Baja Coastlines.

Gregg Mattner

Sub Wrangler/Sub Tech

After recently spending 20+ years doing propriety trading and money management for Goldman Sachs and his own hedge fund, by joining the Virgin Oceanic Gregg is returning to the roots that financed his formal education – namely the marine trades. Gregg has an MBA from Columbia Business School, graduated with high honors from Rutgers College of Engineering with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He holds a hundred ton Master Mariners License, is a PADI advanced diver, proficient in two and four cycle marine engine/propulsion repair and technology, and has machine shop experience. Gregg’s water based adventure interests and hobbies include sailing and power boating, windsurfing, kite and wake boarding, as well as diving.

John Samuelson

Sub Tech/Diver

John holds an engineering degree backed by numerous years of technical product marketing,development and management skills derived from experience dedicated to marine systems,international energy, communications and space technology ventures, including alternative energy business development.

John’s history in deep diving systems operations and aerospace life support systems provides the Virgin Oceanic Team with years of worldwide deep-sea diving and top side operations supporting depths beyond 500’, using one-atmosphere systems, mixed-gas and saturation diving systems. John’s history additionally includes life support, hyperbarics and medical device development and operational procedures for Space Shuttle and Space Station use, with testing completed in zero-gravity and water emersion test beds.

Inge Solheim

Explorer

Inge is a Norwegian adventure guide, expedition leader and safety/logistics consultant for Film and TV productions. He has been guiding expeditions in the Arctic and in Antarctica for many years, and did his first North Pole trip in 1999. He has worked all over the world and with many types of projects and productions, mostly in remote places or hostile environments.

Inge’s background is in finance as both a stockbroker, and product development for a fund management company. He worked as Vice President in a Norwegian savings bank group before deciding to go full time on adventure and expeditions. Virgin Oceanic is a truly pioneering project, and for the first time in his career he feels like an explorer.

Brady Hollingsworth

Brady Hollingsworth

Sub Wrangler

A 15 year veteran of Madison Ave., Brady grew up fishing and exploring the Southern California’s coast. An amateur naturalist, he completed his BTEC Certification at the Venetia Nature Reserve, Limpopo, South Africa in 2010 focusing on predator behavior within limited habitat ranges. He then led the large cat census at the El Eden Ecological Reserve in Quintana Roo, Mexico, a leading indicator for the health of the overall ecosystem. He is focused on the sustainable seafood movement wanting to preserve the type of experiences he had in his youth for future generations.