Pair survives ‘Bermuda Suicide Challenge’

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Two brothers run a flats boat from North Carolina to Bermuda to New York to prove its seaworthiness

Two brothers run a flats boat from North Carolina to Bermuda to New York to prove its seaworthiness

When Ralph Brown began drawing designs for a flats boat about five years ago, he never thought that someday he’d take one of his shallow-water fishing vessels on a 1,500-mile voyage that would take him hundreds of miles offshore.

The unimaginable came true April 30, when Brown and his older brother, Bob, set off from Atlantic Beach, N.C., aboard one of his flats boats — the Intruder 21 — and finished 12 days later in New York Harbor after a weeklong stopover in Bermuda. Brown calls the voyage the Bermuda Suicide Challenge.

“I wanted to make a clear statement about how seaworthy these boats are,” says Brown, 48, president and chief designer of Hudson, Fla., builder Dream Boats (www.dreamboats.net). “This journey should prove that my boats can handle 6- to 8-foot seas, no problem.”

During the 657-mile passage from North Carolina’s CrystalCoast to Bermuda, the brothers ran the boat in winds up to about 25 knots and seas from 4 to 6 feet, says Brown. “The boat handled flawlessly,” he says. “Bob thought we’d get 100 miles or so offshore, and we’d have to turn back. We hit some decent waves, maybe up to 8 feet. It was fun. The experience made Bob a believer.”

The Browns arrived in Bermuda May 2 and remained there for seven days while waiting out a powerful storm that wreaked havoc in the Atlantic off North Carolina. (For more about the storm see Page 7.) They pushed off again May 8 for New York City, completing the 775-mile passage May 11. “We did something — the best we can tell — that no one has ever done before,” Brown says.

A former insurance salesman who lives in Spring Hills, Fla., Brown has no background in boatbuilding but was inspired to design a flats boat after a 1999 fishing trip in a 16-foot skiff. “We were pushing up the ChassahowitzkaRiver in Homosassa, Fla., when we ran over some rocks,” he says. “We didn’t break the shear pin, and we didn’t damage the prop. It killed the engine. It totally ruined our day of fishing.”

Brown started studying the hull designs of various small boats. After about four years of finding investors and designing, developing, testing and redesigning boats, the lifelong boater and surfer came up with the DreamSurfer 230, a shallow-draft inboard trihull deck boat he built at his Hudson shop. Brown later designed an outboard flats boat with a hull that protects the outboard. “I came up with a modified 18-foot cat,” says Brown. “After some work, she ran better than my wildest dreams. Then I raised the gunwales and added 3 feet. That’s the Intruder 21.”

So they wouldn’t have to refuel during the passage, the men carried 300 gallons of gas in four fuel tanks and picked up 50 additional gallons in Bermuda. Even though the boat was weighed down significantly as they departed North Carolina, Brown wasn’t worried.

“My boats don’t sink,” he says. “They’re foam-injected for added support. … These boats have enough foam to keep them afloat, no matter what.”