January 12, 2022
The staff of Florida Sportsman Magazine mourns the passing of Ralph Brown, patriarch of the legendary Dusky boat-building family of Dania Beach, Florida. Brown passed away on Sunday, January 9, 2022.
We caught up briefly with Pat Brown, Ralph’s wife of 55 years, as she reflected on his legacy. “We didn’t have anything when we got married and started building boats,” she commented. “From mortgaging the same delivery truck several times a year to make payroll, we did what it took to be successful. Not to say we didn’t have our share of hardships, but we always made it happen.”
Ralph Brown was born in New Hampshire on April 26, 1939. And founded Dusky Marine in 1967. “He was a pioneer,” Pat said. “He loved to fish and he loved talking about fishing. People ask why we have always stayed factory direct, choosing not to use dealers, and I tell them it’s because Ralph wouldn’t be able to talk to the owners if we had dealers. He loved to talk to customers about their boats.”
And based on the number of people who participate on the Dusky Facebook page, or attend one of the many Dusky owner events, people loved talking to Ralph, too. Maybe no one more than Capt. Bouncer Smith, a Miami charter captain long associated with the Dusky brand. “What a loss to south Florida boating,” Bouncer commented this week, before sharing a reflection of his own:
“I recall one day with Ralph offshore, a tournament out of Palm Beach,” Bouncer said. “Bill Applegate, who worked for Dusky at the time, was in the stern of my Dusky 256 watching the trolling baits while Ralph and Ron Widner, the Evinrude rep, were at the console steering. Suddenly the VHF blares out with, ‘Hey Ralph, you better grab that cushion, it’s about to blow out of the boat.’ Ralph looks around and sure enough a bow cushion is hanging overboard. Then the VHF announced that the Dusky was ugly and the Evinrude engines suck! There is not a boat anywhere in sight. Ralph, rep and I are trying to figure out where this mystery observer is.
“Soon I discover the culprit is Applegate with a handheld VHF in his crossed arms. I signal to Ralph that it is Applegate pulling the prank. Ralph dips up a bucket of sea water and dumps it on Applegate’s head. Turnaround is fair play!”
“Ralph loved Bouncer,” Pat said. “There isn’t a thing Ralph wouldn’t do for Bouncer who owned seven 256 Dusky’s and four 33’s over the years.”
“We don’t build a fancy smancy boat,” Pat laughed. “We build a tough boat. We build a boat that’s made to last. That’s why the Boy Scouts have continued to buy our boats. For over 30 years they’ve continued to buy our boats.”
“Ralph and I fought like cats and dogs,” Pat said. “It was 55 years of fighting. But we made it work.”
It was clear that once Ralph found something that worked, he stuck with it. Whether it was a boat design, personal relationship or business relationship, Ralph stayed true to course. Dusky Boats has been Florida Sportsman magazine’s longest-running advertising partner. The two had one important thing in common, the reader, or should we say the Dusky boat-owner. They were one and the same.
When I asked Pat about Dusky’s future without Ralph, she was quick to reply: “We aren’t going anywhere. I’m not going anywhere. I can’t stay home. Plus, Michael (Brown) has been basically running the company for the last two years. We’re more than 18 month’s out on orders. We’re doing very well.”
As for a service, if you’ve ever been to one of the Dusky owner’s events in Bimini, you probably know the answer to that question. According to Pat, Ralph wasn’t even leaving it up to her to change up his plans. “When I die, I want a big ass party,” she remembers him saying. And according to Pat he began a stashing away money to ensure it was a party that people would remember.
Pat mentioned that there isn’t a date set but said she couldn’t think of a better place to have it than on the Dusky property in Dania, and that it would most likely be planned for some time after the Miami Boat show in late February.
It’s a party I don’t plan to miss.