Panic in the North Atlantic

By Ralph Brown
May/June 2013

Ralph and his brother, Bob, left Tampa, Florida on June 27th 2009 and made more than 20 stops along the Northern Atlantic, through Canada, Greenland and Iceland on their way to Frankfurt, Germany.   Despite dangerously high waves, powerful winds, sharp icebergs, fuel shortages and sharks, the brothers were able to break three world records during their voyage. The 21-foot flats boat, the Intruder 21, is the smallest powerboat to cross the Atlantic and holds the record for the longest ocean voyage in a flats boat and the first flats boat to cross the Atlantic. The 8,300 mile “I am Second - Wounded Hero Voyage” validated Ralph's new boat design, raised money for veterans, and helped raise awareness for a new website proclaiming that 'I Am Second' (and therefore Jesus is first).  It also provided the brothers many exciting moments: here's just one. - ed.


Huge waves are breaking into the boat and we are being pushed up on a shoal. The boat is full of water and whatever isn't tied down is gone. The antenna has fallen, the T-top dry box just bounced open and all my important papers are falling out. The waves are pushing us up to rocks that we can’t see.  It is pitch black out with a cloud cover and our spotlight is only good for a few feet because of the fog. We're scared; I am scared both for my life and for the mission, especially the mission.

A few minutes prior to this I was driving, but it had gotten dark and I was totally exhausted so I ask Bob to drive. He too was exhausted. We had just passed a lighthouse on the outer islands of Faroe in the North Atlantic. There is a small town there. We decided to go back to the small town to spend the night.

When we got back we couldn't find the harbor, because there isn't one. There were two large fishing boats not too far back; we decided to follow them in only they were too far away and they disappeared. The waves were over ten feet. We saw a couple of lighthouses in the distance and Bob wanted to tuck in behind an Island.

Suddenly the waves got much bigger and started breaking into the boat. In ten minutes relatively calm rolling ten footers turned wicked. Ten minutes ago we felt successful having reached the Faroe Islands, just ten minutes. Now the waves are filling the boat. Bob still wants to find a way to get out of the storm. I want to get away from the rocks, but I don’t even know where they are.  I can only see the outline of an Island. We both think the storm has caught up with us. 

I want to get out to the open sea. I will take my chances with the bigger waves, but not the rocks. Bob gladly let me take the helm back.

"It won’t sink, it won’t sink, it won’t sink." I repeat to myself. "Don’t panic, don’t panic. Trust your equipment, trust your equipment. Help me Lord, help us Lord, please."  

I set a course back out. The boat is full of water and more waves are breaking. We are talking to search and rescue now.  We only want directions but they want information and I don’t want to change screens to give them the coordinates.

I can’t get the boat straight. Bob climbs out to fix the antenna. Waves are still breaking into the boat. It is pitch black out and it is hard to drive by GPS only. The boat is slow to respond.

I am Second is a movement meant to inspire people of all kinds to live for God and others. Actors. Athletes. Musicians. Business leaders. Drug addicts. Your next-door neighbor. People like you. The authentic stories on provide insight into dealing with typical struggles of everyday living. These are stories that give hope to the lonely and the hurting, help from destructive lifestyles, and inspiration to the unfulfilled. You’ll discover people who’ve tried to go it alone and have failed. Find the hope, peace, and fulfillment they found. Be Second.

"Hard to starboard, hard to starboard, why won’t this heading change?" I try to will the boat to move. "Too far, hard to port, hard to port."

Waves are still breaking into the boat. Up and down we bob. Suddenly there is a bright star or a planet. We lock in on our bearing. We get the boat straight.

"Trust your equipment."

Bob wants me to do something, can’t take my eyes off the screen, suddenly we are spinning around again, don’t know where the rocks are. There's the star, keep it on the right, starboard. We're back out to open sea. The waves stop breaking. We get in the shelter of some islands. Wow, we are still going.

"The mission is still on!"

There is a helicopter with a spotlight in the distance. We get them on the radio and find out that they were looking for us.  We tell them that it's OK and they go home. Now, do we wait for day light or try to make Torshavn tonight? Bob takes the helm. He will get us there. I try to sleep. So cold, so wet, I don’t think anyone makes a suit for what we are doing.

The first person we meet in Torshavn is Linjohn Christianson. Unbelievable, he is the captain of the Akamalik, a Greenland icebreaker fishing ship, and a star of the Discovery Channel television series, Mighty Ships.  What are the odds? He invites us over for a shower, a nap, and breakfast. I am writing this from his daughter’s computer.

My computer, well, both dry boxes got full of water last night. Thank God Panasonic gave us a Tough Book, because I if I can find someone to pull the hard drive out, I can make it my new anchor.  I think that is all it will be good for. 


The July/August issue of Shout! Outdoor Lifestyle Magazine will feature Ralph, his company Dream Boats Inc, and his attempt to break another record in the fall of 2013: the 61-day powerboat record for circumnavigating the globe set by Earthrace in 2008.

About the Author

  • Ralph Brown's picture

    Ralph is an avid boater and current world record holder recognized by both the World Record Academy and the Guinness World Records (TM) for the Longest Ocean Voyage in a Flats Boat.  He is the founder of Dream Boats, Inc. and the developer of several marine propulsion systems. Ralph is a prior service U.S. Marine and has been married to Anne for almost 23 years. They live in Florida and have three children: Philllip 21, Heath 20, and Brittany 17.

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