BJ and His Youngest Single-handed Record

NW Yachting January 1996

"When the kids are grown and the bills are paid," is usually the time parents think about finally taking their dream cruise. The Caldwell family of Honolulu have never believed in deferred gratification, so they took their kids to the South Pacific. Brian Caldwell Jr. was nine when they set off in their Ericson 32. Now, ten years later, he's equally determined not to let opportunity pass him by. Brian intends to become the youngest single-handed circumnavigator ever.

How this teenager earned the trust of his parents and gained the necessary experience is also a minor epic. After returning to high school at the tender age of 15, he still managed to notch five Pacific crossings during vacations, all with the clear aim of preparing himself for his epic voyage. By the time he turned 19, Caldwell had piled up more sea miles than most of us will amass in a lifetime. This June 1st he set out from Hawai`i on his Contessa 26, "Mai (Miti) Vavau", with an agressive schedule, intending to circle the planet in less than a year! He was soon into his stride and passed up a planned visit to Samoa and Fiji in favor of a fast passage and arrived in Port Villa, Vanuatu, (New Hebrides) 34 days later, having covered 3,400 miles. The young sailor stayed only a few days before departing for his next stop, Cocos Keeling Islands in the Indian Ocean.

His route took him through the Torres Strait, north of Australia, traversing 140 miles of shallows crowded with islands and reefs. He witnessed the sight of hundreds of orange sea snakes swarming around his boat and had a freighter pass within 50 yards. Further west, he encountered the remains of a storm before completing his second leg - 4,400 miles in 40 days.

The third leg was a shorter distance, 2,300 miles to Mauritius. It began with record day's runs of 141 and 146 miles, but the weather deteriorated until he was capsized by reinforced trade winds gusting over 40 knots. "I extracted the hatch board and looked skyward. Miraculously, the spar was still in one piece. However, everything else was in a state of pandemonium," he later informed his parents. The impact bent his solar panels and dumped a foot of water in the bilge, which ruined much of his provisions. He was forced to spend time under bare poles with the sea anchor out and only later managed to dry out his radio and clear the fuel lines to his engine. Many knock downs followed this, and Jan Caldwell has speculated whether the weight of the roller-furling main is more than the boat can handle. One problem he doesn't have is boom breakage, however, Mai Miti has a boomless Hood mainsail and roller furling headsail.

He arrived in Mauritius on September 30 after 21 days at sea. His youthful enthusiasm undiminished, Brian replaced his stores in the island's supermarket, and had Mai Miti shipshape for the demanding passage southwest to Durban, South Africa. This time he had three cruising boats for company when he departed. "He's the one who keeps everyone else's spirits up," stated Wayne Avery, the skipper who was relaying his radio messages.

Brian endured the passage of several cold fronts sweeping through the Mozambique Channel before he reached the African continent, the halfway point in his record attempt. "My experience in the Indian Ocean was like sailing day after day in the Alenuihaha Channel," he remarked. That's the spot between Hawai`i and Maui famous for high winds and seas.

Close to shore, the day before Thanksgiving, he barely avoided being run down by a tanker in the busy shipping route from the Arabian oil fields. Ten hours after he arrived there was thirty foot seas along the legendary 100-fathom line. Brian judged the near miss with the ship as being the most dangerous moment of the voyage and revealed he actually had the EPIRB out in the cockpit. "Just the sickening chance that something besides Mother Nature would stop me was impossible to comprehend," he said.

In a phone call with his mom in mid-December, I learned he was planning to be in Cape Town by Christmas. The southern tip of Africa also presents the most dangerous weather and sea conditions he is likely to meet. "Plan of attack for the Cape: do everything by the book and say a few Hail Marys," he had told her in Durban. Incidentally, Brian turned 20 on December 17.

Caldwell praised his Para-Tech drogue and sea anchor, which has seen plenty of use in the Indian Ocean. It was a last-minute gift from well-known cruising author Earl Hinz. What he would also like to have is "a 16-mile radar and maybe a weather-fax." He told a South African newspaper, "I will stop at nothing to realize my dream."

But this accomplished young American is already looking ahead. According to Jan Caldwell he has calculated that by keeping his water consumption to one quart per day he can sail non-stop the 5,200 miles from Panama to Honolulu. At that rate he would be home by April.

Two Americans, Robin Lee Graham (male) and Tania Aebi (female) are the acknowledged "record holders" in the solo, round the world, youth category. Both were cruising rather than racing and spent plenty of time ashore. They also found romance along the way and carried their lovers with them for short distances - a failing which Brian Caldwell is determined to avoid.

Brian communicates regularly with his parents via radio (some folks can't even get that much cooperation when their kids are in the same house!) and also sends reports to the World Wide Web. If you're on the Internet, or know someone who is try cyber sailing at: BJs Home Page

Brian's ambitions don't stop here either. He has trained himself to take half-hour naps during the night and reckons he will be ready to try single-handed racing next. He has even made tentative inquiries about the possibility of finding a title sponsor and entering the upcoming Vendee, non-stop, solo race around the world!

- NW YACHTING January 1996

BJs first home page

Hele On

Copyright 1996, NW Yachting
Republished electronically by HoloHolo Internet Publishing, all rights reserved