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Hudson boat builder at it again, hoping to break another record

HUDSON — Boat builder Ralph Brown can't seem to sit still, shifting in his chair and then, finally, bounding out the door of his cluttered, stand-alone office toward an old fiberglass boat parked in knee-high weeds around back.

"This is where it all started," he said, kneeling and pointing toward the boat's weathered, corrugated hull. "This design."

Then Brown is up and off to a Quonset hut across the boatyard where his latest venture — The Forgiven awaits.

From humble beginnings, Brown has ascended to storied heights. He and his brother, Robert, set world records for their trip from North Carolina to Bermuda to New York in a 21-foot fishing boat built by Brown's company, Dream Boats, and then two years later in 2009 for crossing the Atlantic in the same vessel. The excursions made headlines worldwide but they pale compared to the next record-setting trek Brown has planned. This November he aims to challenge a British team to make the fastest around-the-world voyage in a powerboat under 100 feet, now set at 61 days.

Brown is building his craft — a cross between a catamaran and a space shuttle — with fellow boat builder Marin Savov at a boatyard in Hudson a quarter mile east of U.S. 19.

So far, Brown has constructed the form for the catamaran's two fiberglass hulls, which sits in the Quonset hut. But he concedes he's in a race against time to raise the $350,000 needed to develop the remaining components and to acquire The Forgiven's two 550-horse power engines and two-speed transmission.

Brown is constantly on the phone wooing investors, but remains steadfast in his optimism to leave by the Nov. 8 departure date: "Building the boat is easy. Getting the funding is hard."

The teams will set sail at the same time from opposite sides of the Atlantic. The British crew and their 90-foot vessel, Accomplish More, will depart from Gibraltar while Brown's five-man team, including brothers Robert and Chris, will leave from Puerto Rico. From there, Brown will sail west to the Panama Canal.

The vessels are vastly different. Accomplish More is essentially a long single hull made of aluminum, while The Forgiven will have two hulls running 56 feet — about a third smaller than the British boat — made of fiberglass. The shuttle will sit on top and the engines inside the pontoons.

The key, Brown said, lies in the boat's design to slice through waves. Trimming the weight helps the vessel ride higher and lowers the amount of fuel needed to power the craft. When full, Accomplish More carries 6,600 gallons of diesel, while Brown's The Forgiven will need only 3,400 gallons.

Even its space shuttle design serves a purpose: to penetrate wind and waves.

"We don't expect to just beat the record. We expect to smash it," Brown said.

The 55-year-old said he first dreamed about circumnavigating the world 10 years ago and started design work a couple of years after that — shortly before he and his brother set off for Bermuda in Brown's fishing boat.

Brown created the boat with its unique "tri-tunnel" hull for both deep and shallow waters. Sailing across the Atlantic was meant to demonstrate the boat's seaworthiness and to boost sales. At first it worked. He lined up investors and secured a building to mass-produce boats, but the investors backed out after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, fearing a downturn in boat sales along the Gulf Coast — their primary market.

Brown, who grew up around boats in Cocoa Beach, wasn't deterred. He continued to seek investors and focused on The Forgiven, a reference to his Christian faith, and on his next voyage.

Not everyone shares Brown's spirit of adventure, though. His wife, Anne, shakes her head at mention of his plans. "She thinks I'm loony, missing a few marbles," Brown said, laughing.

Robert Brown said he elicits similar reactions from friends and family who can't fathom why the two go to such extremes. "Most of them think we're stupid. They ask, 'What's the point? Who cares? Why put yourselves in danger?' " he said. "They don't understand it's an adventure."

Rich Shopes can be reached at rshopes@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236.

Hudson boat builder at it again, hoping to break another record 01/07/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 7, 2014 6:53pm]
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