>BRIAN ‘BJ’ CALDWELL’S
From Latitude 38 (August 1996) with permission…
life of brian – part XII
At age 20, Brian ‘BJ’ Caldwell is on the brink of becoming the youngest person ever to voyage around the world singlehanded. He started off at age 19 from Hawai`i on June 1 of last year. By the time you read this, he will have departed Panama, bound for the Marquesas on the homestretch of his historic trip. His vessel is the Contessa 26 Mai (Miti) Vavau. Brian is expected to complete the circle in Honolulu sometime in September.
A new wrinkle has been added to BJ’s quest in the form of 17-year-old David Dicks of Australia. Dicks left Fremantle in February aboard the S&S 34 Seaflight, also with his sights set on becoming the youngest circumnavigator. He hopes to complete his voyage – which has so far been frought with break-downs – by early October. Whether he can do so or not (the Southern Ocean in winter? Is this guy nuts?) remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, Jan Caldwell, Brian’s mother, PR spokesman and shoreside support team, reports that BJ is already planning his next project: youngest nonstop around the world.
This is BJ’s latest update, penned during the transit of the Panama Canal.
Oh, how time flies when you’re having fun! Mai Miti’s departure from the Pacific seems but a moment ago – and now, slipping through the final locks in the Panama Canal, we arrive back in home waters. Has it really been a year?
Several weeks before, I’d weighed anchor in the bustling Caribbean island of Grenada for the 1,200 miles to Central America. Although I’d heard numerous stories of disgust about Colon, Panama, I was looking forward to seeing one of the seven great wonders of the world in person: the canal itself.
My intent from the outset for this most recent leg was to be more vigilant about watch-keeping than any preceding leg of the voyage. The reason – the large number of ships seesawing through this gateway between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Fortunately, my sightings of heavy metal were far fewer than around South Africa. I suspect it’s because they are confined to one shipping lane there, whereas they split apart soon after transiting Panama up here.
So how was Colon? Well, unfortunately West Marine doesn’t offer Uzis in their ‘96 catalog, so I compensated by sightseeing through the non-bullet proof windows of a taxi! It was depressing to see so many dollars passing into the dark corridors beyond the city lights, but as the saying goes, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” I hope one day politicians opt for the betterment of this place rather than how fast they can fill their pockets.
Like previous ports of call, the local administrators could not have been more hospitable. Both the Deputy Administrator, Joseph W. Cornelison and the Canal Port Captain, Douglas P. Finley, came down to make sure I’d have the perfect transit.
The two even arranged my transit with a sidewalled tug in the first of the Gatun Locks, as turbulence has sometimes caused center-chambered yachts to spin through a full 360 degree circle. They also sidestepped canal regulations by allowing me to take two line handlers versus four, due to the diminutive size of Mai Miti.
My lady and I split the cord between North and South America in one fell swoop, landing within comparative shouting distance of our last port of call – Honolulu. As the Bruce anchor hit bottom in Balboa, the first hurricane of the Caribbean’s season spit venom over my previous pit stop. Yet still, after so many miles, there is no exhilaration. Illusions about success will materialize when I hear the Hawaii Yacht Club’s bell peal across the water. Then I’ll know the marriage with Mai Miti was made in heaven.
If there is going to be a deciding factor in this first circumnavigation and my quest to crush the French at their own game, it will be because of the vision of my sponsors. The following companies/people really came through for me while I was in Panama:
Hans Bernwall of Scanmar Marine recently passed me the torch by sending many new parts to update my 20-year-old Monitor windvane, including new prototype windpaddles that keep the unit working in very light wind.
Raytheon’s Autohelm division foresaw the calms en route to the Galapagos and sponsored a brand spanking new Autohelm ST-2000.
The Sailing Source JSI, anticipating encounters of the third kind (merchant shipping), pitched a Mobri S-2 radar reflector into the melting pot!
Phil Smith, President of Data Rescue Services, another private sponsor, covered the DHL shipping costs of a second new Kenwood TS-50, which my parents had to buy to replace an identical one-year-old predecessor that had failed. I liked his note that came with it: “For the good times and the bad, keep the mast pointed away from the center of the earth!”
SGC Inc. sponsored me with a brand new SGC-230 Smart Tuner to hook up with my new SSB, as I will be giving daily position reports to my shore support team in Honolulu – my mother, Jan – over SSB. In a fax to her, they said, “We at SGC realize that many people around the world depend on our equipment, and trust their lives to it. Our commitment to producing the finest equipment available is based on their trust. We wish Brian well and are proud to provide some of the gear essential to his successful voyage.”
Last but not least, Ron and Janice DuBois; Janice for cockpit canvas, and Ron for the many hours of the initial installation of my first SSB, then many more over the telephone to both me and my mom for the installation of the second one. I couldn’t have done it without his help and expertise. Mahalo, Ron!
As you can see, with the exception of Kenwood, every product manufacturer or supplier, as well as many non-marine associated companies and individuals have supported this effort. They have made this record attempt possible and will not be forgotten in my future sailing successes.
Yes, it’s been a good stop for Mai Miti. The salty old bitch deserves it. She complains about her cosmetics, the paint job, but hey, we’re not going to a beauty contest.
The skipper also complains, but I’m almost rid of the nagging intestinal parasites that have ‘bugged’ me since the South Atlantic. That’s what I get for trusting the drinking water. I’ll blow off Panama after I kill the alien with a generous dose of antibiotics. I’ll keep you informed from sea by transcribing my next article over my new SSB – hopefully pretty close to writing off my first solo circumnavigation!
brian caldwell, jr.