Blind veteran to compete in the Great Pacific Race

23 May 2018 10:00

On 2 June, two former Royal Marines, one vision-impaired, will compete in the world’s toughest rowing event, the Great Pacific Race.

When blind veteran, Steve ‘Sparky’ Sparkes steps off the rowing boat, ‘Bojangles’, onto the shores of Honolulu, Hawaii, he will enter the record books as the first vision impaired person to have successfully completed the Great Pacific Race. Steve will be joined by his fellow former Royal Marine, Mick Dawson. Together they will navigate 2,700 miles from Monteray Bay in California to Honolulu, Hawaii. Steve will be in very good company, as Mick is himself, a professional sailor, holds a Guinness World record for his successful crossing of the North Pacific. By completing the race, the pair hope to raise £100,00 for Blind Veterans UK and the Royal Marines charity.

Mick and Sparky, who will take part in the Great Pacific Race

The boat has been fitted with autopilot, which means the rudder will self-steer and has been modified so that it has equipment that Mick can easily use.

Steve, who lost his sight during a diving incident for the Special Boat Service selection, hasn’t looked back since being introduced to the charity. He says:

"I was really struggling with the sight loss when a charity called St Dunstan’s, now Blind Veterans UK, contacted me. I returned to England for training at their centre in East Sussex near Brighton and the rest is history, as thanks to their training they gave me back my life. With the skills they taught me I’m able to live independently and lead a full life and sight loss is something I can deal with"
Sparky and Mick during a training session with our Brighton center in the background

Talking of his rowing partner and how he is feeling about the challenge, Steve says: ‘Mick has worked countless hours to re-fit his boat, Bojangles. He’s done the admin, secured sponsors and the fundraising has been full on. Part of me is apprehensive, but mainly I’m excited about the whole adventure, as it’s something completely new. The Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are Mick’s playground and I’m excited to discover what it’s all about. He assures me I’ll soon forget about land and the ocean will become home’.

Sparky and Mick with the boat, 'Bojangles'

Steve and Mick will compete in the race as team Cockleshell Endeavour and hope to complete the route in 50 to 60 days, but have provisions to last them for three months. Mick predicts that if the weather is bad it will help them. He says:

"The worse the weather the better we should do. I’ve had the most rowing experience in bad weather, so perversely we’ll benefit if the weather is bad, but I’d rather it was nice weather all the way across"

With three months’ worth of food on-board, supplied by Expedition Foods as well as 1,400 tea bags, they will be totally self-sufficient during the race.

As they navigate the migratory route, they hope to see whales, sharks and a multitude of sea dwelling wildlife. Mick says:

"That’s the best thing about it, as every time you do this there’s a chance of seeing something new, perhaps that no-one has ever seen before. I’ll be amazed if within a week we’re not taking pictures of Sparky petting whales."

Rowing from Monteray Bay to Honolulu they will follow the bench mark routine of two hours on and two hours off, when one person rows for two hours while the other person sleeps. The only variation to that is the dog watch, a Naval term for the hours of six to eight, when they will row for one hour to ensure they don’t get the same shift each day. Four times a day Mick will prepare their food on a high speed stove and, to ensure they do not become two solo rowers in the same boat, they will take five minutes to eat their meals together and chat.

You can sponsor the duo, as well as send them messages and read their updates as they row, by visiting