Steve Sparkes and Mick Dawson Royal Marine rowers

Royal Marines Veteran Becomes First Blind Person To Row Pacific

Steve Sparkes and Mick Dawson Royal Marine rowers

The duo rowed more than 2,000 miles across the Pacific (Image: Great Pacific Race).

A blind former Royal Marine has become the first blind person to row the Pacific after a gruelling 82 days at sea - covering around 2,400 miles.

Steve Sparkes, 57, and his fellow rowing partner, who is also a former Royal Marine, Mick Dawson, set off on June 7th in California and have since completed the Great Pacific Race.

During their time they faced extreme weathers, which delayed their progress - as well as coming face to face with a Category 5 Hurrican Lane, just five miles from the finish line in Hawaii.

Mr Dawson described the moment they reached the Waikiki Marina as a "massive relief".

The eye of the storm was 50 miles from their position meaning the duo faced giant waves, rain and thunderstorms. 

The only protection they had from the extreme conditions was from their small; cabin on their boat.

'A massive relief' - the two Royal Marine veterans on how they feel having finished the journey

They also faced rough seas, wet and cold weather throughout their row, causing them to break two sets of oars in rough conditions - leaving them to row with the shortest pair of oars, adding to the difficulty of the row.

At one point, Mr Sparkes was thrown overboard, however, he was tethered to the boat at the time, saving him.

"This almighty great big wall appeared to my side - a white wall and bolted the boat over onto its side and threw me off the boat," Mr Sparkes said. 

"Fortunately, I was tethered on and I ended up in the water.

"The boat is self-uprighting so she uprighted herself and pulled me back on board.

"For me at that time that was the most frightening." 

The pair were offered a tow back to the finish line before Hurricane Lane hit, but turned down the offer, wanting to complete what they started 82 days ago under their own steam.  This row was completely unaided so the pair carried their food and supplies, as well as equipment for turning seawater into fresh drinking water with them on their 21.5ft long, carbon fibre ocean rowing boat, nicknamed “Bojangles”.

Steve Sparkes Royal Marine veteran rower
Steve was medically discharged from the Royal Marines (Image: Great Pacific Race).

The boat used by the two rowers had already crossed the Pacific once before - it was the boat used by Mick Dawson when he entered the record books in 2009, alongside Chris Martin, as they became the first people to complete a 7,000-mile row across the North Pacific from Japan to San Francisco. 

They remain the only people to have ever successfully rowed this route.

Mr Sparkes was medically discharged from the Royal Marines, as at the time there was little support in place for injured veterans. He has since been supported by Blind Veterans UK.

He said his eyesight deteriorated: "Things got really bad and that's when I got introduced to Blind Veterans, who basically plucked me out of Malta and looked after me.

"They probably got me back on track to do stuff like we've just achieved." 

They both competed in the Great Pacific Race to raise money for Blind Veterans UK and the Royal Marines Charity.

The pair have already raised around £11,500 for the charities.

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