A dream fulfilled

Published June 2, 2007

Ralph Brown has always believed in his vessel. From his Hudson facility, the Spring Hill boater produces a line of shallow draft vessels under the name Dream Boats.

Running in skinny water is nothing new, but Brown says his design handles the coastal and offshore realm, even when seas are less than hospitable.

That's an impressive claim, but not one experienced boaters accept at face value. So earlier this year, Brown set out to prove his assertion in grand fashion. Recruiting his brother Bob, he set plans for an ambitious voyage that would take him from Atlantic Beach, N.C., to Bermuda, then to New York Harbor - in his 21-foot Intruder model.

Despite a slew of naysayers and those who implored him to forego this "suicide mission, " Brown stood firm. Long story short, Ralph (48) and Bob Brown (49) left Atlantic Beach on April 30, arrived in Bermuda on May 2, departed May 9 and reached the Statue of Liberty around 3 p.m. on May 11.

Brown's trip records indicate about 51 hours and 750 miles for the first leg; 797 miles and 52.5 hours for the second. Brown said his mileage included a lot of zig-zagging around wave peaks.

Trip memories

When Brown recalls the oceanic experience, a few particular points stand out.

CONDITIONS: Seas ranged from a foot to 6 feet with a few 8-footers during the first leg of the trip. During the second leg, waves were 1-5 feet most of the way, with a few 4- to 6-footers during a storm. The last day was glassy with low, rolling seas and foggy rain.

Noting their safety protocol, Brown said: "We kept ourselves tied to the boat anytime we left the cockpit. At night we stayed tied to the boat even in the cockpit."

PASSING THE TIME: "We ate a lot of snacks, peeled a lot of oranges, worked hard to get wet cereal out of a cup, and fruit cocktail out of a can without spoons. The driver usually played a game trying to get maximum speed without touching the throttle.

"We kept trading off driving and sleeping. You really could not sleep well on the stern or on the bow. On the stern you would wake up freezing and wet. The wind was 20-30 mph most of the trip, so we had sea spray blown all over the boat."

CLOSE ENCOUNTER: "The only real time I was scared, was when I saw a whale tail and a blow. You know how a fish leaves a swirl, well a whale leave a giant swirl. We were sitting in the swirl, looking at it and imagining the whale coming up and bumping our boat, " Brown said.

"I decided to move my video camera from the dry box I had up front to the zippered canvas storage in the T-top so I could get to it faster. That night the zipper came open and the camera hit me in the head on the way out of the boat."

HERO'S WELCOME: "When we arrived in Bermuda, the mayor of St. Georges came out to meet us. The sail maker (Ocean Sails) made us a custom canvas (no charge) that we put in front of the console to make a cubby.

"Before we left, the Bermuda TV station came out to film our departure. It was a humbling experience, all the kindness we experienced. We were made honorary members of the St. Georges Boat and Dingy Club."

LESSON LEARNED: At the end of their journey, the brothers received no fanfare in New York Harbor. In fact, the only direct attention came from the Port Authority officer who issued a ticket for entering a security zone around the Statue of Liberty.

"The sign had washed away but it was still my responsibility to carry a chart and know the restricted areas, " Brown said. "Most people buy a chart to keep from running a ground. My boat doesn't run aground except in extreme shallow conditions, which we can almost always see. So I did not buy a chart - my bad."

Proving the product

Responding to the inevitable "Why'd you do it?" queries, Brown says his voyage was the ultimate endorsement.

"The purpose of the trip was to show that our (boat) could handle 6- to 8-foot waves, " he said. "Lots of boats can handle (such seas) but can they also run in less than 6 inches, not beat in a chop and be reasonably dry?

"We wanted to make a statement that would let (our customers) feel safe running a few miles offshore on a calm day. If a storm comes up, we want our customers (to know) they will be safe coming back home."

He insisted on proceeding without backup. This was a risky call, but one that forced the brothers to depend on their vessel and their seamanship.

"The trip had to be unescorted to show that we were trusting in the seaworthiness of the boat, and of course God smiling on us, not a larger boat following us, " Brown said.

Pending record

Brown said that while many boats have made similar crossings, he believes this was the first time a flats boat did so unescorted. He said that Guinness World Records and the Academy of World Records are reviewing his trip details.

Final decisions are forthcoming, but yea or nay, Brown fulfilled his mission. No one can take that from him.

For information on Dream Boats, visit www.dreamboats.net.