Exmouth Falklands veteran Steve Sparkes is first blind person to row Pacific

PUBLISHED: 10:23 05 September 2018 | UPDATED: 10:23 05 September 2018

Steve Sparkes rowing. Picture: Ellen Hoke.

Steve Sparkes rowing. Picture: Ellen Hoke.

Ellen Hoke.

He and rowing partner Mick Dawson complete 2,400 mile race in a 21.5ft boat

Steve Sparkes, adorned with traditional Hawaiian flower garlands on his arrival in Honolulu. Picture: Ellen Hoke.Steve Sparkes, adorned with traditional Hawaiian flower garlands on his arrival in Honolulu. Picture: Ellen Hoke.

A former Royal Marine from Exmouth has become the first blind person to row the Pacific, braving stormy conditions, injuries and even being swept overboard.

It took Steve Sparkes and his rowing partner Mick Dawson nearly 12 weeks to complete the 2,400-mile Great Pacific Race from Monterey in California to Honolulu in Hawaii, in a 21.5ft carbon fibre boat.

The sea was so rough at times that two pairs of oars broke, and their route took them within 50 miles of the eye of Hurricane Lane, which brought more giant waves, rain and thunderstorms.

When Steve was swept overboard, he was only saved by his safety tether connecting him with the boat. He also suffered facial, head, knee and shoulder injuries in other mishaps on board, which slowed the pair down.

Mick Dawson and Steve Sparkes on their boat. Picture: Ellen Hoke.Mick Dawson and Steve Sparkes on their boat. Picture: Ellen Hoke.

Throughout the journey, Steve and Mick took turns to row in a pattern of two hours rowing, two hours resting. It was entirely manual rowing, and the pair carried all their food and supplies on the boat. For the final few days of the journey, they had no gas to make hot food or drinks.

They arrived at the finish at 18.55pm on Tuesday, August 28, and their first request to the crew meeting them was for a flask of hot tea.

What makes Steve’s achievement even more incredible is that, a year ago, he had never set foot in a rowing boat. The idea of entering the race came up after a chance meeting in Mick’s local pub, The Coach House, in Rottingdean. Mick, also a former Royal Marine, is a very experienced ocean rower who was part of the first team to ever row the Pacific between Japan and San Francisco, in 2009. The pub became the “unofficial race HQ” with locals following Steve and Mick’s progress and raising a glass to them on hearing they had arrived safely at the finish line.

The massive achievement by Steve and Mick has raised £12,000 for the Royal Marines Charity and Blind Veterans UK, who supported Steve after he lost his sight in a diving accident while serving with the Marines.

Speaking before the race, Steve said: “I wanted to do something special with a fellow Royal Marine; it’s payback time, to help those that have helped and supported me.”

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