>The Young Man and the Sea
From Latitude 38 (November 1996) with permission.
A quick recap…..”This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first-ever singlehanded circumnavigation by Captain Joshua Slocum,” wrote Brian Caldwell, Jr., in his first dispatch from sea, which appeared in our September, 1995, issue. “It also marks 10 years from the time my family first sailed to the South Pacific in 1985 on our Ericson 32 Foxy Lady.”
Brian essentially grew up in the cruising life, spending the formative years of 8 through 15 aboard Foxy Lady as the family traveled throughout the South Seas. At some point in that process, says mother Jan Caldwell, “We created a monster.” Young Brian vowed to make a living as a sailor. His recently completed circumnavigation is only the first step on a willful plan that will one day see him at the helm of one of those mighty BOC-class sloops.
Here are a few of the highlights of his circumnavigation. June 1, Honolulu – Sporting the logos of some 20 different sponsors on her hull, Mai (Miti) Vavau departs Hawai`i for Vanuatu, 3,400 miles hence.
Gear aboard the little boat includes two GPSs, a 406 EPIRB, an SSB with auto-tuner, a hard dodger, a Monitor windvane and roller furling on all sails. “Barring disaster,” notes BJ, “the voyage will take one year with a 4-knot average.”
August 16, Indian Ocean – At midnight, halfway between Vanuatu and Cocos Keeling, a rogue wave blasts out of the darkness and rolls Mai (Miti) upside down. “I throw my hands over my head as equipment cascades onto the cabin top, which for the moment is the cabin sole,” writes BJ. Once upright, the young skipper opens the companionway, infinitely relieved to find the mast is still there. The boat is chaos, but the only real damage is a blown-out staysail. It takes until dawn to straighten everything out and get underway again. “I never thought I’d be licking peanut butter off the ceiling,” he notes.
September 30, Mauritius – Fate throws a curve ball. As BJ is meandering around a supermarket reprovisioning, his eyes meet those of Mauritian beauty Geraldine. “There really is such thing as love at first sight,” he enthuses. Somehow, Brian’s will to carry on wins out over his raging teenage hormones and Mai (Miti) once again sets out to sea, bound for Durban. “Saying goodbye to Geraldine could be the most difficult obstacle of my endeavor,” he says. “Here’s to hoping it is.”
Late November – Barely skating through an episode of huge waves along the 100-fathom line of the Alguhas Current, BJ looks forward to a clean shot into Durban — only to have a too-close encounter with a Supertanker. “I had the 406 EPIRB in the cockpit with me. It was that close.” he says. “The sickening chance that something besides Mother Nature could stop me was impossible to comprehend.”
Reflections on the brink of the halfway point: “I dream about food and women. On that latter score, I’ve desicded to have a blindfold waiting at every port. They’re all out to disqualify me as a singlehander.”
December, Durban – On December 17, BJ turns 20. On the 23rd, he departs Durban for a short series of harbor hops (not noted on map) to East London (12/25/95-1/12/96), Port Elizabeth (1/13-1/18), Mossel Bay (1/20-2/13), and Gansbaii (2/15-2/23) before reaching his official halfway point, Cape Town.
His tallies at that point: 11,700 miles in 114 days at sea, an average of slightly more than 100 miles a day. Though they are impressive statistics, BJ is frustrated at having spent two months and three attempts before he finally rounded Cape Alguhas, the southernmost point of Africa.
“Some might argue this is the most dangerous promontory on earth,” he writes. “Sure, it blows gale force a higher percentage of the time at Cape Horn, but the chances of encountering waves of 20 meters and higher are far less than around the Alguhas Bank.”
After taking on a new set of sails, donated by Doyle Sails and Bainbridge Sailcloth, BJ departs Cape Town for St. Helena on March 8.
April, enroute to Grenada – With no firsthand reports from BJ, our Sightings installment consists partly of an interview with him that appeared in a South African sailing magazine. Here’s his response to a question about how he deals with being alone as sea for long periods.
“I don’t know if it’s just me, but I feel the whole solitude thing is overdone. I’m never aware of it. I’ve always got too much to do — watching the weather, sailing the boat, navigating, cooking, reading and writing. In fact, the longer the passage, the better I feel. I can adjust. It’s the coast hopping and short passages that are disruptive.”
June, Panama – “West Marine doesn’t offer Uzis in their ’96 catalog, so I compensated by sightseeing Colon through the non-bulletproof windows of a taxi,” writes Brian. His transit through the Canal is uneventful and on June 30, Mai (Miti) is once again in the Pacific. Even better : antibiotics have finally overcome a nagging intestinal parasite picked up somewhere in the South Atlantic.
Late July/early August, not far off Panama – In stark contrast to the windy ‘top end’ of the circumnavigation, Mai (Miti) makes only 200 miles in 13 days. The next 800 aren’t much better. Finally, at 2° 25’N and 102° 18’W, he picks up the Southeast Trades, which stay at 15 knots for almost the entire sleighride back to Hawai`i.
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