Boatbuilder crosses Atlantic in flats boatPosted on
The owner of a fledging Florida boat company and his brother hopscotched their way up the East Coast and across the Atlantic – an 8,312-mile odyssey – in a 21-foot center console power catamaran, hoping to raise money for military charities while drawing attention to his boat’s seaworthiness.
Ralph Brown, 50, owner of Dream Boats, in Hudson, Fla., and his brother Robert Brown, 52, of Merritt Island, Fla., got under way June 27 from Tampa in the Intruder 21, which Ralph Brown designed.
The brothers took the cat up the East Coast to Canada, then across the Atlantic to Greenland, Iceland, England, France and Germany, where they arrived Sept. 10 (go to www.crosstheatlantic.com for details). The unescorted trip took 76 days.
“[The boat’s] limit was about 12-foot seas,” says Ralph Brown. “Between the Shetland Islands and the Orkney Islands [off northern Scotland] we got into some breaking 12- to 15-foot waves with gale-force winds coming out of the north. We were headed southwest. We probably should have thrown the sea anchor, but we decided to keep at it.”
The Intruder is unsinkable, with foam injected into the hulls, says Brown. A single 140-hp Suzuki 4-stroke powered the cat for the trip, along with a 9.9-hp Suzuki kicker. Safety equipment included an EPIRB, two satellite phones, a VHF radio, life jackets, and survival suits. In addition to the boat’s standard fuel tank, they strapped additional tanks to the deck and carried gas in portable containers.
The 593-mile passage from Canada to Greenland was the longest leg. “We got stuck in 7- to 9-foot waves,” says Brown. “We almost ran out of fuel and ended up throwing the sea anchor and waiting for the winds to shift out of the north.”
They finished the last 180 miles or so with the kicker “because it gets better fuel economy.”
The voyage, dubbed “I am Second – Wounded Hero Voyage,” was made in honor of three of Ralph Brown’s Marine Corps comrades who died in an ill-fated 1980 attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran. Brown was scheduled to deploy in the same mission, but his unit was never sent, he says.
Brown, a former insurance salesman from Spring Hill, Fla., had no background in boatbuilding when he decided to delve into the marine business. After running hard aground during a 1999 fishing trip in a friend’s 16-foot skiff, he was inspired to design a flats boat that could run in very shallow water.
Tired of listening to him talk about building a boat, Brown’s wife, Anne, issued an ultimatum: build it or shut up about it.
The Intruder 21 is a catamaran flats boat with a full tunnel. The boat has about 2 feet of freeboard with a standard load, weighs 2,500 pounds, and comes with a standard 27-gallon fuel tank. With standard power – a 115-hp Suzuki 4-stroke and jack plate – sells for $26,400 (without T-top and trailer). The boat can take up to a 150-hp outboard.
Brown has sold 17 Intruders.
The latest trip was the second in this boat for the brothers. In 2007, they made a 774-mile passage from St. George, Bermuda, to New York Harbor to promote the Intruder 21 and help get Dream Boats off the ground.
“We were trying to find investment capital rather than trying to sell boats,” says Brown. “I did hope the trip would help me meet people who had the ability to make a large investment in our company.”
Then the economy took a nosedive. Brown is hopeful his company will endure because he believes in his boat.
“I definitely think this model of flats boat is a great product,” he says. “Let’s face it, it runs extremely shallow, and it is seaworthy enough to cross the Atlantic, though I would not recommend [the voyage].”
The voyage from Bermuda to New York trip is documented in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “longest non-stop ocean voyage in a flats boat.” Robert Brown wrote a book about the adventure called “Bermuda Suicide Challenge.”
— Chris Landry