>BRIAN ‘BJ’ CALDWELL’S
From Latitude 38 (July1996) with permission…When we last heard from Brian Caldwell, Jr., he was just departing South Africa, the halfway point of his 22,000 mile attempt to become the youngest solo circumnavigator in history. As this was written, the 20 year old part Cherokee is in Panama, poised for the last few leaps home to Hawai`i, probably via the Galapagos and Marquesas. Brian hopes to sail into the Ala Wai sometime in July.
The vessel for this project has been a mild mannered Contessa 26 sloop the same type of boat sailed by Tania Aebi during her circumnavigation. Brian named the boat Mai (Miti) Vavau, which is a dual purpose name. Mai Miti was Fletcher Christian’s Tahitian girlfriend, and miti vavau means wave from a distant storm in Tahitian. Both names have special meaning to Brian, who grew up aboard his parents’ boat while cruising the South Seas.
If you have been following this series, you’ll know that BJ has had his share of adventures, including a 180 degree roll in the Southern Ocean, running before numerous gales, and the hardest part: somehow fending off the romantic enticements of beautiful island girls.
For the last several thousand miles, BJ has sailed in company with Tony on the Cal 30 Proteus. Tony, 26, hopes to become the first Korean to complete a circumnavigation when he, too, sails into Hawai`i in July.
As well as being a kindred spirit, Tony has served as an excellent benchmark. Wherever the two boats would go, Tony’s bigger boat would customarily enter port well before BJ. However, Doyle Sails and Bainbridge Sailcloth donated new sails to Mai (Miti) in South Africa, and ever since the smaller boat has left the larger in her wake. In a recent phone conversation with Brian, he noted that the Spectra sails stay full in lighter breeze, and the boat is demonstrably faster. “On the trip from St. Helena to Grenada, I came in 260 miles in front of Tony,” he enthused.
Here’s his most recent report, penned during that leg of the trip.
I’m now a thousand nautical miles north of St. Helena in the South Atlantic, and the tranquil weather of the tropics is the story of the day. The crimson Contessa has sunk her teeth into a 40 mile lead on my compatriot singlehander Tony on Proteus.
Since leaving the desolate rock fortress full of mermaids a little over a week before, the voyage has been an idyllic downwind milk run. Wing on wing for days on end, the weeks slip by and I begin to lose track of time. Finished novels pile the trading box full of knowledge, each tale a mental book marker to differentiate one day from the next.
As Mai (Miti) and I scale these balmy latitudes, I can’t help but think back to the enigma of the not too distant past, now thousands of miles aft. The jagged outcrop of the Cape of Good Hope stands out as the pinnacle of the voyage thus far. I had to slap myself in the face to keep from turning left. The logical epilogue passage would have been to the land of bottomed out barometers windswept Patagonia and the wrath of Cape Horn.
But too many voyages have been broken by greed. I can’t let the desire overpower rhyme and reason, Moitessier style. I have an obligation to the sponsors who made this pipe dream come true in the first place. Time wise, it just would not have been possible to arrive before my birthday if I succumbed to my lust for the deep south. So, we enjoy the barometer’s impotence while it lasts.
As we close with the eastern seaboard of the U.S., I begin to hear democracy at it’s best. Sweat filled nights below the equator are spent listening to quote on quote over the rag net, or what I call the heartbeat of America. Men disillusioned with Cheese Whiz or the deficit scream revolution to the air waves with God knows how many watts! I try to imagine what a Zulu warrior in South Africa might think, listening to this flagrant demonstration of the equality of men, Amen.
Do I really want to come back to all this? Momentarily, I entertain thoughts of jibing back towards Good Hope. But if I’m to undue the injustice bestowed upon Mike Plant, if I’m to challenge the top guns of singlehanded racing (France) on equal footing, if this Cherokee is to someday find a Groupe Finot draft underneath his feet, he’s got to sail hell bent back to the barn. So I keep on keeping on.
Beneath the scorching sun of the doldrums, we live these idyllic daydreams of the future. Meanwhile, I play a game of chase with that damned other singlehander. . .”Get off my transom, there’s not room enough on this ocean for the two of us,” I growl over the SSB radio. With a 60 mile lead after two weeks at sea, I sail like it’s the BOC. We jibe on the vagrant Proteus and the waypoint. I sit right on top of him as the match racers say. As I listen to South Africa’s infamous meteorologist, Alister, give the coordinates of the isobars, we meander across the chart in search of the better pressure gradient . . . In light to moderate breezes, I eat the Cal 3-30s shorts. But if the blow exceeds 25 knots, he walks away from me.
I love the diversion of racing boat for boat on this slower but more seaworthy design. Yet I never lose sight of El Grande. I’m not willing to jeopardize the age record attempt by pushing the boat to pace someone else. The game’s a transient pleasure instigated to pass time. Now northeast of the Amazon River and 900 big ones from Barbados and Grenada, Mai Miti’s taken the hatchet to the umbilical cord we’re 260 nautical miles ahead of Proteus!
It was the ’89 Vendee Globe winner Titouan Lamazou who said, “It’s an illusion to think that a boat is a synonym for happiness. During a race, happiness is rare. It does not involve being relaxed even for a moment.” Mai Miti and I beg to differ. We’ve never been happier and felt more in harmony than when circumstances came down to the wire. The heat is what got me out here in the first place. First into harm’s way? Is this your mother’s worst nightmare or what?
In Lila, one of those salt embalmed paperbacks in the forepeak, author Robert M. Pirsig writes a scene illustrating how native Americans influenced today’s American mind set, as in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
“The Kid is without expression but is alert and self controlled.” The voice of an unseen gambler says. “Well it looks like you cleaned everybody out, fella. You haven’t lost a hand since you got the deal.” There is no change in the Kid’s expression. “What’s the secret of your success?” the gambler’s voice continues. It is threatening. Ominous. Sundance looks down for a while as if thinking about it, then looks up unemotionally. “Prayer,” he says. He doesn’t mean it but he doesn’t say it sarcastically either. It’s a statement poised on a knife edge of ambiguity.
“Let’s just you and me play,” the gambler says. A showdown is about to occur. It is the cliche of the Wild West. It has been repeated in hundreds of films shown in thousands of theaters and millions of TV sets again and again. The tension grows but the Sundance Kid’s expression doesn’t change. His eye movements, his pauses, are in a kind of relaxed harmony between himself and his surroundings, even though we see that he is in a growingly dangerous situation, which soon explodes into violence.”
Pirsig then explains that “what you have just seen is a rendition of the cultural style of an American Indian. They would be seen, identified for what they were, their famous old traits: silence, a modesty of manner, and a dangerous willingness to sudden, enormous violence . . .”
The drum’s rhythm rises to a crescendo, black and white stills of the voyage pulsate through my head and this union of boat and man, machine and flesh is morphing into one dream that comes straight from the heart. The transient record is the means to a more ominous but gratifying cape to round someday.
With too much time on his hands, BJ labors to find the reason for being another basket case singlehander ripe for the mental institution. I’ll apologize to the readers for my partiality to my genes in advance and save the last half of this trip to Panama for the next installment by the snot nosed kid on the red Contessa!.