I Am Second: Smallest Powerboat to Cross the Atlantic

I Am Second Voyage

By Tab Olsen

This is a review of the 11-episode boating adventure series, I AM SECOND Wounded Hero Voyage Crossing the Atlantic, presented by Interstate Batteries.

I Am Second is a fascinating real-life documentary about Ralph and Robert Brown, two brothers with faith in God throwing all caution to the wind in an effort to honor wounded military heroes. An incredible story, an amazing challenge, and a great adventure! I only watched one episode at a time, but still I couldn’t wait to see what happened next.

Two guys setting off to cross the Atlantic in a little 21′ runabout, with no cabin, no head, no place to sleep, no place get out of the weather, and no radar. No winter clothing, no insulated sea boots, no foul weather gear. Not even enough money to get past Canada, never mind get to Europe – and even if they make it, how are they going to get the boat back home!

Starting in Florida, they set out to cross the Atlantic Ocean by way of the Arctic in a 21-foot flats boat to honor military heroes. They traveled unescorted to 12 countries through freezing waters, past thousands of icebergs, lots of whales, and dogged by Hurricane Bill and other Arctic storms. They earned several world records, including “smallest powerboat to cross the Atlantic,” “longest non-stop ocean voyage in a flats boat,” and “longest unescorted oceanic crossing in a flats boat.”

These guys are not professional filmmakers but have the have courage and a good cause. The film is also a travelogue, with interesting portions about the Canadian Maritimes, Labrador, Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands. The different places that they visited were captivating to see, especially the icebergs and entering the waterways into England.

Low Budget? More Like NO Budget!

I Am Second was produced with virtually no budget, but that’s what made it so much fun to watch. It’s actually refreshing to see something that’s not over-produced and fake. It simply shows these two guys going out and doing something for a cause they believe in.

Ralph Brown said, “It is similar to the quality of the original Discovery Channel reality shows. True life, Bob made this on a zero budget while working more than 40 hours a week. No we did not have a chase boat full of cameras. It was his first made for TV footage. He decided to film it and at a later date he created this series with thousands of hours of work, but not thousands of dollars.”

The home video quality not only adds to the charm, but the home-made production touches seemed to fit perfectly with how they made their voyage. What you see basically is someone telling you a story with video clips cut into it.

While they obviously were not able to film everything, as they were also busy running the boat in all kinds of trying conditions, they filmed quite a lot considering. Bob is as good as any professional broadcaster, and even better when you realize he’s mostly doing it all on his own with a selfie stick!

Bob did most of  the talking, and the narrator at the beginning is Ralph Brown’s daughter. So it’s a total family affair. The whole time they were out there, I was wondering what their wives were thinking. They were hardly mentioned during the series, but finally you get to see them in the last episode. I felt bad that the trip took longer than expected, and so Robert missed his son’s first day of college, which he’d been looking forward to ever since his son was born.

The Voyage

Almost on a whim, they embarked on an Arctic voyage across the Atlantic Ocean from Florida to Germany in a 21-foot open fishing boat.

For some time, Ralph had been thinking of going on a world record setting trip, using the publicity to promote wounded hero foundations. One day, Ralph called his brother Bob and asked if he wanted to go.

They would be leaving without enough money to complete the voyage and have to sleep on board their cabinless boat with very little supplies to keep them warm. First they would have to finish rebuilding the boat and cruise up the east coast.

Seriously, it’s amazing that these guys didn’t kill themselves. Right from the get go it’s like a comedy of errors with the brothers dropping important gear over the side of the boat, having their hats blow off, and fighting constant battles with failing equipment that was never seaworthy to begin with. When I first started watching, I thought, were they even going to make it up the East Coast?

After arriving in New York and spending days doing repairs while hunting for more capital, they head to Boston. They pulled into R&R Marine on a trailer for an oil change at Hingham Shipyard. Passing lobster fishermen and a tall surprise along the waterfront, they didn’t have time to explore, unfortunately. Ralph and Bob continue up along the coast of Canada, passing wildlife, doing some fishing, and experiencing colder weather.

Some miles offshore they discover an iceberg a hundred feet tall and larger than a football field. Bob had always wanted to see an iceberg, and what does he do? He goes surfing around it! It’s worth watching just to see that episode. That was the first iceberg, but as they continued on, they passed over 60 icebergs. Bob got his wish, that’s for sure!

When they got to Canada their little GPS had no charts for Canada and they were using AAA road maps! No radar and plenty of fog. They had slapped together some extra decking and reinforcement onto the boat IN ONE WEEK before they left! One 115 hp outboard, and one emergency 9.9 kicker. Spare gas tanks fastened all over the place. The gunnels were 2″ above the water line when fully tanked up! Patching the boat up as they went along. Hustling for media coverage and funds at every stop to keep going–pretty stressful. They did seem to have a good support person in the US though, and reached him by satellite phone when needed.

After meeting several other explorers in the back country of Labrador, Canada, Bob and Ralph head back out to sea on the way to Greenland. The 625-mile trip doesn’t go as easy as planned. They burn through 200 gallons of their 300 gallons of gas, and have only traveled a third of the way. Now the concern is will they have enough fuel to make it.

Freezing and soaking wet, the Brown brothers consider all options as they slowly run low on fuel hundreds of miles from land. Help is only a phone call away, but if they get rescued by the Coast Guard, that means their trip is over. They decide to go for it, and it’s a miracle how they make it to Greenland.

Traveling through the lower part of Greenland, where towns are hundreds of miles apart, Ralph and Bob get to see how the locals live. Their boat is hauled out of the water for an oil change and inspection. A couple more donations and their trip is back on. They actually meet many extraordinary people along the way, including chance encounters with a Greenland oil executive that Ralph had once met at a convention in the US, and in Iceland they meet Magnús Scheving, the producer and star of LazyTown, an English-language Icelandic television series.

Nearing the Faroe Islands after dark, they managed to get stuck in a whirlpool. They could have easily been sunk, but managed to power out of it. Once in the Faroe Islands, they got a crane to lift their boat out of the water for needed damage repairs. Then it was a race to stay ahead of Hurricane Bill.

There were no Coast Guard or rescue crews involved at all, other than to track their location just like they do for every other vessel traveling the seas. At one point a British Coast Guard helicopter crew hovered over them taking video in amazement, as the Brown brothers powered nonstop through huge waves much larger than their little boat, and winds at 30+ knots.

They had been warned about how dangerous the North Sea could be, but they decided to go for it. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the cover of their Suzuki outboard motor fell off, so they were sputtering along with water getting in the motor. Then there was a storm and they were trying to find a safe harbor in the pitch dark. They ended up spending the night with some Coast Guard guys, even though it technically wasn’t a rescue.

They were on the outskirts of London when they were met by Norm Miller of Interstate Battery and the I Am Second organization. London was the location for the Cross the Atlantic world record to terminate. But as if that wasn’t enough, they continued on across the English Channel to France, and then to Germany. (A weird thing was, in Europe, it was against the law to have more than two Jerry cans of gas.) It was disappointing that the head of the maritime museum in Germany wouldn’t meet with them, probably because they were lowly Americans. They ended up visiting a military hospital in Rhine, Germany, where they told their story and figured out how to get back home.

One thing not mentioned long enough be noticed, is that Ralph’s company, Dream Boats, designed, manufactures, and sells the boat used for the trip–the Dream Boat Intruder 21. The torture test this boat went through was a real testament to the strength of both fiberglass and the human spirit.

The “I Am Second” Organization

Ralph and Bob named their boat “I Am Second,” because God is always first. There is also a not-for-profit organization called “I Am Second.” It was founded by Norm Miller, the Chairman of Dallas-based Interstate Batteries. Many people don’t know that Miller is a Christian business executive of the highest caliber. Directed by the Bible verse John 12:32, Miller was looking for ways to inspire people to put Jesus Christ first. That’s how Interstate Batteries came to sponsor Ralph and Bob’s trip.

These brothers definitely had the faith that God would see them through. I don’t care what anyone says, these two men are heroes in every sense of the word – having journeyed across the Atlantic, never giving up, putting God first, and bringing heightened awareness to Wounded Warriors. How they did not fall overboard, get pneumonia, broach or flip the boat, crash into ice or something submerged while traveling 20 knots in the middle of the night–unbelievable.

These two guys, undoubtedly with God’s help, made it to their final destination (with just a cup of gas to make it at one time!). What they accomplished is absolutely unbelievable! Yes, the production is a bit amateurish–but it was done on a shoestring budget, and for a basically one-man production, you can tell that a lot of effort, work, and TLC went into it. It’s very endearing.

As low budget as this is, people should watch and respect what they did and why they did it. Ralph and Bob are a lot tougher than they look, and they made up for a lack of planning and arctic offshore experience with sheer willpower, luck, and endurance.

Thanks for taking us with you, Bob and Ralph! Watch the “I Am Second Voyage” on Amazon Prime!

I Am Second

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