Mick’s latest epic Pacific challenge begins

Mick Dawson (left), from Boston, and Steve Sparkes, from Devon. Picture: Ellen Hoke
Mick Dawson (left), from Boston, and Steve Sparkes, from Devon. Picture: Ellen Hoke

A record-breaking former Royal Marine from Boston has launched his latest intrepid rowing challenge – one that would, again, make history.

Mick Dawson, 54, is attempting to help fellow ex-Royal Marine Steve Sparkes, 57, from Devon, become the first blind person to row the Pacific.

Mick Dawson, at the start of the race. Picture: Ellen Hoke

Mick Dawson, at the start of the race. Picture: Ellen Hoke

On Wednesday, the pair pushed off from Monterey, California, for Waikiki, Hawaii, in the Great Pacific Race.

While the direct route is 2,400 miles, weather conditions and changing currents could see the duo row closer to 3,000 miles, spending between 50 and 90 days at sea.

This row will be completely unaided so the pair are carrying their food and supplies, as well as equipment for turning seawater into drinking water, with them on their 21.5ft long, carbon-fibre ocean rowing boat, nicknamed Bojangles.

Bojangles has already crossed the Pacific once as it was the boat ex-Carlton Road pupil Mick used when he entered the record books in 2009. Travelling with Chris Martin, they became the first people to complete a 7,000-mile row across the North Pacific from Japan to San Francisco – an achievement that has not been repeated since.

On board Bojangles. Picture: Ellen Hoke

On board Bojangles. Picture: Ellen Hoke

Mick, who is based in Brighton but remains a regular visitor to Boston said: “After months in the planning, and a bit of a delayed start, it’s great to finally begin this challenge. We’re expecting tough weather conditions over the next few days which will really test us, but with my experience of ocean rowing, and Steve’s determination to be the first blind person to complete this challenge, I have no doubt we will succeed.”

People are encouraged to follow their progress of social media or via their website (www.cockleshell-pacific.com) and support their chosen charites – Blind Veterans UK and The Royal Marine’s Charity. Donate at uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Cockleshell-pacific

* Steve’s blindness is due to a rare form of macular degeneration known as Stargardts.

He has lost his sight completely apart from some peripheral vision of shapes and colours.

He was medically discharged from the Royal Marines at a time when there was little in the way of support in place for injured veterans. Ten years after his discharge Blind Veterans UK, then known as St Dunstans, tracked down Steve who was by then living in Malta. They flew him back to the UK and provided the first training and support to help Steve deal with his condition. Steve has worked consistently with and for Blind Veterans UK in the years since helping other veterans come to terms with their loss of sight.