Across the Atlantic in a 21-footer

Posted on 13 October 2010 Written by Chris Landry
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A year after completing an 8,312-mile trans-Atlantic voyage from Florida to Europe in a 21-foot flats boat, the story of brothers Ralph and Robert Brown could be made into a documentary.

Michael DiCarlo, 25, of Orlando, Fla., hopes to raise at least $15,000 to produce a 70-minute documentary. He has prepared a video trailer showing some of the highlights of the 76-day journey, which took the Browns up the East Coast to Canada, then across the Atlantic. They arrived Sept. 10 in Germany after an 8,312-mile trip. (Go to www.crosstheatlantic.com for details).

Dim lights

Click play to watch footage from the voyage.

"As I saw some of the photos and the video footage, I thought, This story has to be told. It's an amazing story," says DiCarlo, who has a bachelor's degree in film from Full Sail University in Winter Park, Fla. "They took this small boat across the ocean through humungous waves and had to deal with all sorts of obstacles, and they actually made it - that was amazing to me."

Many people thought the Browns - Ralph is 51 and Robert 53 - would never complete the voyage. I had my doubts, too. During my reporting for a previous Soundings article about the Browns, I had looked at their boat and even driven it in the Gulf of Mexico. Indeed, it is a flats boat, with knee-high freeboard; a flat, raised foredeck; and only a T-top and console windscreen for protection from the elements.

The pair had completed a 774-mile trip from Bermuda to New York in 2007 to promote the boat's rough-water capabilities. Ralph Brown designed and built the boat, a full tunnel catamaran called an Intruder-21. He operates a boat company called Dream Boats in Hudson, Fla. But this sojourn was different; we're talking thousands - not hundreds - of miles.

The brothers took 20 hours of high-definition video, and it will form the backbone of the film, DiCarlo says. As of Oct. 11, DiCarlo had raised close to $3,000 (click here to donate).

Raising money will be tough, but so will the film's distribution. "Production is just a small part of making a film," DiCarlo says. "If it's going to be successful, it has to get out to the people." If it is funded, DiCarlo says, the film could be finished in about nine months.

The Browns, both Florida residents, left Tampa June 27 in the cat. A single 140-hp Suzuki 4-stroke powered the boat, which was also equipped with a Suzuki 9.9-hp kicker. Safety equipment included an EPIRB, two satellite phones, a VHF radio, multiple life jackets, 10 days of provisions and survival suits.

The 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 mission, but his unit wasn't sent, he says. The trip, dubbed the "I am Second - Wounded Hero Voyage," also aimed to raise money for wounded soldiers, Brown says.

"The truth is, we haven't raised squat," Brown says. "That doesn't mean you can't succeed in the long run, but I'm actually $20,000 in the hole."

He hopes the documentary will jump-start the fundraising. The footage includes scenes from the Browns' 593-mile passage from Canada to Greenland. There were some harrowing moments, Brown says.

"We got stuck in 7- to 9-foot waves," he says. "We almost ran out of fuel and ended up throwing the sea anchor and waiting for the winds to shift out of the north and finishing the last 180 miles or so with the 9.9-hp because it gets better fuel economy."

Also caught on video is the brothers' struggle to repair the T-top, which had come apart in a number of places. "We stopped at an island and went to a hardware store and bought a bunch of butter knives," Brown says. "We took the butter knives and took duct tape and wire ties and braced it up that way. We also tied it down in 11 places."

Lighter moments also were recorded, such as when Brown used the boat to tow his brother on a surfboard in glacial waters.

The passage from Bermuda to New York is documented in the Guinness Book of World Records as the "longest non-stop ocean voyage in a flats boat." Robert Brown, a house painter from Merritt Island, Fla., wrote a book about the adventure, "Bermuda Suicide Challenge."

Shortly after completing the Atlantic crossing, a fire destroyed Robert Brown's home. His computer and video camera were ruined, but he was able to extract the video footage.

Also in this issue

Ethanol and winter storage

E15: What does it mean for boats

George H.W. Bush and his new go-fast fish boat

Meet the Ultra Anchor guy

Comments (2) Comments are closed
2 Monday, 07 February 2011 15:21
Don Schutt
Absolutely amazing accomplishment, and an amazing boat. How long is the waiting list for one?
1 Friday, 15 October 2010 15:21
Ralph Brown
It was a blast.
Taking volunteers for the next voyage.