History was made in Scalloway Harbour this week as American adventurers Ralph and Bob Brown set foot on British soil after crossing the Atlantic in the smallest ever powerboat to make the crossing, finding them a place in the Guinness Book of Records.
Setting off from Tampa, Florida on 27th June, the pair have faced all the perils of the North Atlantic as their route has taken them past Canada, Greenland, Iceland and Faroe before arriving in Scalloway on Thursday afternoon.
They intend to carry on to Edinburgh, London, Paris, Frankfurt and possibly Copenhagen before calling it quits on their epic fundraising mission for the “I am second – wounded hero voyage” cause that they have founded.
The amiable pair are a striking example of ordinary people doing an extraordinary thing for a cause they believe in, to raise funds for any and all kinds of ‘fallen heroes’ that have been wounded in the course of doing their duty, like firemen, soldiers and policemen.
The seemingly outrageously foolish nature of their journey in such a small open boat even has them describing themselves as “a pair of idiots” with great humility, but as Ralph says “it’s all for the publicity” which they hope will help to ultimately raise as much as $3 million for their cause. Much of it will go to the Help for Heroes Foundation in the UK and similar groups in the US and Canada and if sufficient funds accumulate they intend to carry on to fund the building of a hospital in Honduras.
This extraordinary achievement was conceived three or four years ago as Ralph visited a war cemetery, where the members of the ill-fated Delta Force Marine Unit are interred. These marines died during a mission dubbed Eagle Claw, which was the highly publicised mission to free the American hostages from the Tehran Embassy siege in 1980, a mission that Ralph himself was prepared to take part in before a change in plans sent another eight men of the unit to their deaths in a re-fuelling accident as they attempted to leave Iran.
Being spared, Ralph vowed that he would never forget his fallen comrades and it was a realisation in the cemetery some 25 years later that he had forgotten them that spurred him into action, to make a difference for fallen heroes. He explains: “Many are injured in the line of duty, in whatever service they are in and when they are, families may have to live on one wage where there have been two, aside from the medical and other hardships they face”.
Ralph approached his brother Bob as he was pressure washing a roof in his job in their home area one day and asked him if he “fancied going for a ride in a boat” which Bob agreed to without hesitation and even when finding out the extreme nature of the boat ride, reflects that he’d still have agreed.
The boat itself is fairly remarkable and undoubtedly more appropriate for fishing in the Florida Keys than crossing deep oceans. Made by Ralph himself, it is a Dreamboat Intruder-21 full tunnel catamaran hull fitted with a 115hp outboard engine and a 9.9hp auxiliary outboard. The hull design draws only two or three inches of water when un-laden and has only about 18 inches of freeboard and no cabin or fixed shelter on the deck apart from a canvas sunshade and the deck itself is almost entirely flat.
Any sleep they have managed at sea has been on an airbed or a bean-bag on the stern, zipped up in an insulated surf-board cover for warmth. The hull design enables them to cruise at around nine knots when fully laden with the huge amount of fuel they must carry and around 25 knots when the load is lightened, though it is capable of up to 45 knots when stripped down for normal use.
Their perilous journey has seen them struck by an iceberg while sleeping off Greenland and wrestling amongst 15ft waves that broke right across the deck off Faroe as an attempt to find safe harbour in 10-12 ft waves took them into a deadly set of skerries and reefs, from which the local Faroese fishermen were amazed to see them escape.
Perhaps their most lucky escape was when motoring 600 miles between Greenland and Iceland they came to realise they had no chance of reaching land with the fuel they were carrying and so, to eke it out, switched to their tiny auxiliary outboard and spent three days crawling along at a very slow pace, in a leg of the journey that was planned to take two days and ultimately took six. Fuel was at such premium that they were even forced to use a sea anchor to prevent backward drift when resting.
“It’s not a comfortable boat.” says Ralph as he lists the cracked ribs and damaged wrist he has incurred en route and they both bear the scars of salt burns from lengthy exposure to the elements. In reference to the likelihood of anyone surpassing their record achievement, Bob muses, “when you look at the boat, it’s pretty unlikely isn’t it?”
They have encountered lighter moments during the trip, including taking time out near Greenland to water ski behind the boat, with icebergs for a backdrop, on the surf board they whimsically carry on the cockpit sunroof and brief moments of fishing off Canada with rods that adorn rod holders on the sunroof frame. But, as Bob says, “there just hasn’t been time, rushing from port to port.” Overall, he says, “we’ve met some great people, seen some great places and there’s been great photography in some of places along the way.”
The trip has been primarily sponsored by the “I am second” movement, which aspires to help people find their purpose in life, and by Interstate Batteries. To make a donation or buy a shirt to support the cause visit the website at www.crosstheatlantic.com.
“Heroes, those who serve, are constantly missing something in their lives for the good of others,” says Ralph. “From when my son was a baby in arms I looked forward to the day he would go to college. At eighteen years he has gone to college and I have missed that, but I missed it to do something for a good cause. I’d like to see 9/11 renamed as Do More Day, let’s not talk about the memory of something, let’s do more to make things better. You only live once.”
So far the voyage has attracted huge media attention in every country and state they have visited. The Faroese have already dubbed them “the last Vikings”, a title they take all the more pride in as their hometown of Massachusetts is said to be where Viking explorer Leiv Eriksen landed when crossing the Atlantic the opposite way. They have so far travelled 6,700 miles and have another 1,000 ahead of them over the next two weeks, with Stromness in Orkney as their next port of call and their voyage already set to be entered into the Guinness Book of Records.