Vendee Destiny

As the Vendee Globe solo nonstop around the world race is about to start in 13-days – below is something I wrote when I sailed my round the world…Funny, I’m not far from doing the same race in one-design format…however, I hope its simple foreplay to more ‘laps’ that might include a Vendee Globe ; )  A small Vendee teaser video below!

CHAPTER 6: HOW THE SCHOOLBOY FOUND HIS WAY BACK TO THE SEA

All men dream: but not equally.

Those who dream by night in the dusty

recesses of their mind

wake in the day to find that it was vanity:

but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men,

for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it

possible.

-T.E. Lawerence

Seven Pillars of Wisdom

“Brian, stop daydreaming and pay attention to class!” The turquoise waters of the past evaporated as my English teacher came into focus. Even before we’d gone cruising, I had a short attention span in class. Now, my vagrant imagination was becoming a real problem.

Until we had set foot back on land, I thought, “Oh what a nice change it will be to live in the fast lane. To meet kids my own age without having to say goodbye the same day.”

True, every person perceives circumstances differently, but I have found existence ashore unacceptable. I just could not fathom the drugs, gangs, school system, and neglect of precious life to say the least. Put simply, there was too much bullshit on land and there was no bullshit at sea- it didn’t work out there. So I began planning my personal mutiny.

Later on summer break, eight hundred miles north of Hawaii in the cold realm north of forty-degrees latitude, this fifteen year old ‘salt’ is steering a boat through diabolical seas. With the leather-coated helm of the racing yacht “Perestroika” in hand, weary eyes revel the knot meter that exceeds speeds of twenty knots in prolonged down-wind surfs. On this third day in the gale-swept westerlies, we have covered a whopping 286 nautical miles in 24 hours…

A week before, in my first summer break since entering high school ashore, I had been offered berth with two others to deliver her to Los Angeles for the Transpacific Yacht Race. After eight months imprisoned on terra firma, I was finally back home, alive in my element.

Life at speed…airborne in long downwind surfs, spray seemingly reaching spreader level. The scream of water racing across a yacht’s under-body still manifests rushes of adrenaline. Imagine windblown nights below a full moon, while your boat tears across moonlit waters and suffers fantastic broaches. Sometimes, the entire boat would disappear underneath a blanket of exploding foam. And with every moment, you evaluate if you’re pushing too far. Life at speed, like watching a fast soaring Wandering Albatross, was very satisfying indeed.

I came to realize on these wild night watches, that by not circumnavigating the world with my family, by coming back for school and work, gave me the comparison between the two distinctly opposite lifestyles, and there was no comparison.

If six years in the South Pacific ruined me, this first yacht delivery was the kiss of death. Undoubtedly, it was the end of life ashore! The name of the boat seemed to fit – “Perestroika”. My reform program consisted of sailing, sailing and more sailing.

While peers went on dates or to football games, I spent school breaks crossing the ‘pond’ – my personal ‘sand-box’ on break – the Pacific Ocean. Yacht delivery followed delivery and by graduation, I’d sailed across the Pacific five times, plus one trans-Atlantic race of which our vessel placed 3rd of 153 boats.

This fever soon took the form of a dream – to become the youngest solo circumnavigator. From the time I was fifteen years old, I pursued sponsorship. No sooner was I out of school than I was seated before an executive friend of my dad or working on some new elaborate proposal instead of doing my homework.

It was nerve-wracking, because I wanted to leave as soon as possible but I was not about to let my newfound love – ‘the dream’ – die for a lack of material funding. The challenge shouldn’t be overcoming the financial aspect, but rather the actual 27,000-mile ‘lap’. It turns out sailing around the world was by far the easiest part of the bargain.

Obtaining support for sailing in America has often been difficult since advent of commercial steam-ships. I often look back and wonder if I had hailed from sail crazy France how much easier it might have been or where i’d be now. If I had known then what i know now, I would have exploited my percentage of French blood for all it was worth…instead I found a French girlfriend!

In my next life i’m going to be reincarnated as a 17-year old French girl/model with a background of cruising and go set the record for youngest circumnavigation while racing the nonstop Vendee Globe and no weapon of a boat I dream up will be out of my reach!  Should i have the sex change now ?!…I tell people, “getting finances is ninety percent of the effort, sailing around the world is the fun part.”

Experience wise, I was ready to go at fifteen, but obtaining the money took another few years. Frustrating to say the very least, but maybe my future son or daughter will cut the dock lines at the age of fifteen or younger. My consolation was the fact that when it came together for departure, the year was the one-hundredth anniversary of the first solo circumnavigation of the world under sail by American Joshua Slocum in 1895…

At some point, as teenagers always do, I met a girl. She’d been adrift in mental turmoil for some time. As I fought to finish my senior year of high school, she fought to keep her emotions in check, insofar as my prospective solo circumnavigation. My will put her through hell. I was never living for the present but forever lost in the future. Looking back, my every move at the time was made to impress on those around me my determination to live my dream.

While gazing at the foam-swept seas off the Cape of Good Hope, or witnessing another humbling sunset, yes, there are times when I feel guilty for being alone. You often feel guilty for witnessing such beauty with no one to share it with and you know you will never do justice to the experience with words.

It’s human to long for companionship sometimes! However, more often than not, my partner was a dolphin, whale or albatross. Needless to say, my yacht – “Mai Miti” – is very much alive…

Sometimes, long before my departure, a dream shook me like an apocalyptic premonition. I saw myself framed in a labyrinth of raging seas that stretched into eternity. Alone in the southern ocean, ice coating the decks and rigging.

I knew it was me, but you wouldn’t know. In a survival or dry suit, I looked like a futuristic man from space. I might as well have been on another planet as conditions below the five Great Southern Ocean Capes are unlike anything ninety-nine percent of humanity has experienced or seen.

Survival by itself is a tightrope walk in this inhospitable place, but this was no endurance competition – it was a race. The longest and toughest race in history. Twenty-four thousand non-stop miles solo around the planet, challenged the contestant to and from the finish line.

Operating yachts on the cutting edge of technology, skippers risked death as much from the elements as from boats that pushed the design envelope too far. This blood sport was in my not-too distant future. The desire to sail the Vendee Globe Race coursed through my veins like a virus.

After looking into the Cape of Good Hope’s ebony eyes, I knew this daunting future was cut and dry. It was now a matter of preparing for war. My every move would be made to prepare for these ice wastelands of my imagination.

So I told perspective sponsors that exposure wasn’t confined to this first voyage, “it’s the first step on a ladder, the age record means nothing, it’s the means to a ominous, but more gratifying cape to round. Spirituality for me, victory in the world’s toughest race for you, this thing called – publicity.”

The champions of capitalism must have seen the vision, seen the raging inferno in this boy’s eyes that store unperturbed though all barriers to his future at the bottom of the world.

Life is fantastic. One day all the toils and effort paid off. True, I gambled security by following this intangible path, but the joker broke the house of cards. In one fantastic ride, I’d transcended the limits of what a great majority thought possible. At the age of nineteen, I had pieced together a credible challenge – to assault the planet while still under the legal drinking age at home.

To quote a going away card at my departure – “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not, nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not, un-rewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not, the world is filled with educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race.”

And so began my voyage, a simple childhood dream shared by the many who gave part of themselves to make the impossible come true. People struggling, just to make ends meet, came forward, to sacrifice hard won money for an idea planted by a nine-year-old ten years in the past. “Never loose the youth inside of you, the belief that anything is possible if you try long and hard enough.”

Poised on the deck of my new vessel, I tried to comprehend the events that brought me to this most incredible moment. The fact I now had the platform – the extension of myself, for the tooling of my destiny – was life at it’s best.

-bj caldwell

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