Flats boat making waves

Ralph and Robert Brown plan to cross the Atlantic Ocean in their flats boat to raise money for wounded soldiers and their families.

You might say he's crazy, but Ralph Brown doesn't mind.

The 50-year-old former Marine and his brother, Robert, plan to depart the Charleston Harbor Marina at Patriots Point today on a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

The Browns' choice of vessel for the trip is astounding. A 21-foot flats boat capable of maneuvering in water only 4 inches deep, the Intruder-21 would be the first flats boat to cross the Atlantic.

The boat does not have a cabin, so the brothers will be mostly exposed to the elements.

Ralph Brown said he is making the journey to raise money for military veterans and their families, and to honor three Marines who died in the attempt to rescue hostages at the American embassy in Tehran in 1980. He said he hopes to raise $3 million by selling 150,000 commemorative shirts.

The brothers plan to leave port in the evening before dark.

Ralph and Robert, 51, already hold the Guinness World Record for the longest nonstop flats-boat voyage. This trip would reset the record, covering more than 6,200 miles, according to the Brown's web site, www.crosstheatlantic.com.

But not everyone believes in the mission. Asked if it would be safe to cross the Atlantic in the Browns' flats boat, Jason Poe, manager of the Charleston Harbor Marina, said simply, "No."

Along the route the brothers plan to follow, he said, "You can get into some pretty treacherous seas. The boat is loaded down with gear. There's two persons aboard. One good swell could swamp that boat pretty quickly."

Ralph Brown is unfazed by people who have told him the voyage is too dangerous.

"Tell that to the soldier that stands at roadside posts, that raising money to help him is too dangerous," he said.

When he talks, Brown is passionate, even a little angry at times.

"I realize no one's ever (crossed the Atlantic) in that style of boat, but that doesn't mean it can't be done," he said.

Ralph Brown's wife and three children are in Charleston to see their father and uncle off.

How do their families feel about the voyage?

"Both wives gave us a hard time, and then both switched just recently, and they both have become very, very supportive," Brown said. "I think (our kids) all think we're a little bit loony, but they kind of like having loony dads."

The Browns reside in central Florida, Robert on Merritt Island and Ralph in Spring Hill. Robert is a house painter, and Ralph is the CEO of Dream Boats Inc., a boat-design company.

The unprecedented venture is Ralph Brown's way of keeping a 29 year-old promise.

In 1980, as a Marine during the American embassy hostage crisis in Iran, Brown said he was told he would be deployed to the region but his name was never called.

In the United States' attempted rescue operation, three Marines — Sgt. John Harvey, Cpl. George Holmes Jr., and Staff Sgt. Dewey Johnson — were killed, along with five other servicemen.

On hearing the news, Brown said he made a promise to himself to preserve the memory of his fellow corpsmen, and today, he begins his epic voyage in their honor.

Poe said he thought Brown was planning the safest route possible for such a crossing, but added, "I hope they got all their paperwork in order." Asked what he meant by "paperwork," Poe said, "Their wills."

Brown, meanwhile, is confident in the success of the voyage. Of those who say the boat is not safe enough to cross the Atlantic Ocean, Brown said, "I'm sure that's what they said to Charles Lindbergh too."