HUDSON — Ralph Brown thinks big.
When he had in mind a trans-Atlantic boat trip to raise money for British veterans, he wrote the queen. He received a polite reply from Buckingham Palace. No money, but good luck.
When the Guinness Book of World Records asked Brown whom he would like to present him with the record for the longest nonstop ocean voyage in a flats boat, Brown went with another world leader: President George W. Bush. He didn't oblige, but he did send a signed photograph.
Brown, 50, and his brother Robert, 52, earned the Guinness record in 2007 after making the 1,400-mile voyage from Atlantic Beach, N.C., to Bermuda to New York Harbor in a 21-foot fishing boat typically used in shallow water. But that wasn't enough for Brown, who now plans to take the same boat to Germany — a 6,200-mile, 46-day journey hugging the coast through the Arctic.
This time, he says, the stunt isn't simply about proving the seaworthiness of the boat he designed, patented and built. It's not about promoting his business, Dream Boats Inc. It's not about the world record he already holds or the thrill of the ride.
Those things are important, he admits, but he is also invoking a higher purpose: The former Marine wants to raise $3 million to benefit six veterans' organizations and to establish a national holiday in their honor. The project, which he calls "Do More Than Just Say Thanks," has a budget of $300,000. It is dedicated to three Marines who died in the ill-fated 1980 operation to rescue the American hostages in Iran. He calls that a "suicide mission.''
Fitting, then, that he is dedicating to them a voyage that many people would call just that.
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But Brown isn't worried about the danger because the boat, he says, is "unsinkable."
Though the skiff will be weighed down with 347 gallons of fuel (some 2,500 pounds), Brown said the hull is full of flotation so it can't sink.
It can, however, capsize, especially amid 10-foot swells in the open ocean. For that reason, Brown has equipped the craft with a buoyant roof so it would lie on its side instead of flipping upside-down. Then, he said, there are two 15-foot poles that he and his brother can use to right it.
The brothers are also beefing up their safety stock from what they brought to Bermuda. They're bringing three satellite phones, four flare guns, GPS trackers, and survival suits to protect their bodies from exposure on the boat, which has no cabin. They also obtained two brand new 115-horsepower engines from Suzuki.
Still, Brown warns, no one else should try what they're doing.
"We've planned this thing for more than a year," he said. "We know what we're doing."
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When Ralph Brown first asked his brother to join him on the trip to Bermuda, Robert Brown's wife, Jill, said absolutely not. But the next morning, Robert called Ralph and wanted to know more.
From a camping trip with some friends, Robert called his wife to tell her that he was leaving straight from there to go with Ralph. He thought they would turn around without getting past the gulf stream and figured he would call his brother's bluff.
After making it to Bermuda and back, when Ralph asked Robert to come on the next trip, he immediately said yes. He also wrote a book about their first trip called Bermuda Suicide Challenge in a Flats Boat.
Their wives are still "tolerating" the adventures, Ralph Brown said, carefully choosing the word tolerating. His wife declined to comment.
Jill is still in denial, Robert said. Indeed, she said she doubts the trip will happen.
"I don't think they're going to get the money," she said. "I think they're crazy."
Robert said he knows she thinks they're nuts, that they should grow up and stop doing childish things.
"But you live for adventure," he said.
Robert can recite the history of people crossing the Atlantic in ways that seemed just as crazy. It's certainly not as scary as the time Ralph asked him to take the boat out in the middle of a hurricane. (They decided against it.)
Asked why he wanted to make the trip, Ralph Brown said, "Why not?"
"I don't want to be written up as a quack," he said. "On the back end of this, I see a major boat company. Right now I'm just not being believed."
After the Bermuda trip, Brown told the St. Petersburg Times he wanted to raise $5 million and take Dream Boats public. In the proceeding six months, he raised about $50,000.
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Ralph Brown originally planned the trans-Atlantic journey, set to take off last September, just because he wanted to do it. But then it transformed into the fulfillment of a 29-year-old pledge.
When Brown was in the Marine Corps, he was told he was going to Iran, but he was never deployed. When his three comrades died in the desert, he says he made a promise to himself and to God never to let their names be forgotten.
Today their names are posted on the wall of the rusty trailer in his boat yard off U.S. 19 in Hudson, the base of operations for planning his next odyssey.
Brown has been working eight to 12 hours every day soliciting corporate sponsors. He won't say who until they've committed, but on his blog he mentions reaching out to Home Depot, Sears, Interstate Battery, Red Lobster, Red Bull, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
He does not take their rejections gently, especially when the given reason is that they don't want to be associated with the danger he is taking. In his mind, they are not shirking from his putting himself at risk, but from the men and women in uniform who are putting their lives at risk for their country.
"It's too dangerous?" he demands. "Tell that to the soldier standing at the roadside post!"
Brown wants to sell 150,000 shirts to raise money for six charities: the Special Operations Wounded Warrior Foundation, the Wounded Warrior Project, Disabled American Veterans, the Wounded Warrior Regiment, Canada's Guardian Angels and Britain's Help for Heroes. So far, he has 24 advance orders.
But the boat trip doesn't raise any money. It's just a stunt to help sell the shirts. More than that, it's an excuse to go out to sea, Brown said.
Brown has had little luck raising the $300,000 for the trip, but he says he's going no matter what, and he'll borrow the money if he has to.
He's still undecided how he'll return. He could ship the boat and fly.
Or, he says with a grin, it's only 19 days straight back across the middle of the ocean.
Either way, he says, "I plan to be back from Europe in time to drop off my son for his first day of college."
The voyage embarks from Tampa on June 27.