The Young Man
and the Sea

Brian ‘BJ’ Caldwell, a son of a gun of a sailor, became the youngest person to go out
on the sea for an adventure
many dream about, but few
can accomplish

Story by Mike Fitzgerald / Star-Bulletin
Photos by Ray Pendleton, special to the Star-Bulletin

My soul is full of longing
For the secret of the sea,
And the heart of the great ocean
Sends a thrilling pulse through me.

--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

BRIAN "BJ" Caldwell has been back in Hawaii for barely a month. And already he longs for the freedom of the open sea.

The 20-year-old McKinley High School graduate completed a 27,000-mile single-handed circumnavigation of the world on Sept. 28 - the youngest person in history to do so.

It took him 16 months to complete the incredible journey aboard his 26-foot sloop, but he brought back a lifetime of adventure and memories.

Brian Caldwell

This wasn't a luxury cruise, however. There were nightmares to balance the beauty.

But there was never any doubt.

"I always felt I would make it," he said last week, just before speaking to a gathering at the Hawaii Yacht Club. "I never considered giving up. I thoroughly enjoyed the voyage. I was sad to come back - I wish I was still out there."

Caldwell spent much of his youth sailing in the South Pacific with his parents, Brian and Jan Caldwell.

He was educated through correspondence courses - by his mother, a former teacher - while living on their sailboat from the third through eighth grades.

"They took me to the South Pacific when I was about 9 years old and we spent six years cruising there," he said. "That's what got me addicted to sailing.

"The record itself doesn't mean anything to me, just the fact of my being out there."

His father said there was never a lack of experience or expertise before he set off on the record ride.

"He delivered five boats to the mainland," the senior Caldwell said. "He raced a boat across the Atlantic. He delivered a boat to Tahiti. He did a lot of sailing during his high school years.

"We support him a thousand percent. He knows what he's doing. He's a very capable sailor with thousands of sea miles under his belt."

But, as parents, wasn't there some concern?

"We go though the normal sort of apprehension," his father said. "But we have a great deal of confidence in him.

"Sometimes we drive through Ala Moana and see kids hanging around on the corner over there and we think he's probably safer in the middle of the ocean."

His mother was worried, though.

"There wasn't a moment when he wasn't in my thoughts and prayers," she said. "We've been sailing for about 25 years now and I've seen what the ocean is capable of doing - and he experienced more rough weather than we ever have.

"I worried a lot and I missed him horribly. But I knew that he was doing what he wanted to do."

His trip started from Honolulu on June 1, 1995. His few stops included the exotic ports of Vanuatu, Cocos (Keeling), Mauritius, Durban, Cape Town, St. Helena, Grenada and Panama.

Young Caldwell listed the horror stories as most young people his age would name their favorite music videos.

"I was rolled by a big wave in the Indian Ocean," he said of his boat being turned upside down in the middle of the night by a huge wave. "I was almost run down by a supertanker. I encountered a lot of storms, especially around South Africa. But nothing that unexpected. It's a given on a circumnavigation."

Was he ever afraid of dying out there?

"There was a big gale off the cape of South Africa where I thought I might lose the boat. But I was never really fearful for my life."

The highlights?

"Every place is different, so they all stand out, especially the people that you meet. I loved South Africa. You could be on a safari one day and in a big city the next. It was the best of both worlds.

"Cocos (Keeling) was a beautiful island, very much like French Polynesia, with pristine waters - you can see the bottom at 100 feet."

Caldwell started envisioning the trip years before he set sail.

"Once we came back (from the South Pacific) I decided that I wanted to find some way to go back to the sea - and it just so happened that pursuing a record was the fastest way to get it paid for. If I did it myself, it probably would have taken 20 years or so.

"I wanted to go at 15 - I had enough experience. I tell people that getting sponsorship is 90 percent of the battle."

His parents and a few sponsors helped pay for the trip.

"He actually started planning this thing when he was 15 years old," said his father. "But we really weren't able to put it all together until he graduated from high school."

Finally, he found the right boat, which he named Mai Miti Vavau, meaning in part "waves from a distant storm."

"It was available at the time for a good price and it had circumnavigated the world," he explained. "It was built the year I was born, 1975."

Caldwell said by the time he finally embarked on the project, there was with a sense of relief.

"I had already sailed around the world countless times in preparation and planning. I was exhausted from the all-consuming preparation."

Caldwell said he ate mostly out of cans and slept about 12 hours a day, although he woke up every 30 minutes or so to make sure everything was OK.

His routine was a busy one - and he said loneliness was never a problem.

"I think it takes a certain kind of individual. The loneliness aspect is overdone. There was too much to do - read, write, keep the boat sailing, watch the weather, cook for yourself, take care of the boat. It goes on and on. There was always something to do. And if there isn't, you're doing something wrong.

"I was never lonely. The world is so small in this day and age that I could call my parents when I reached port. It's not like 100 years ago when I wouldn't see them or talk to them."

What food did he miss the most?

"I always liked to find a pizza when I came to port. And some ice cream, maybe."

Caldwell said the people he met were also fascinating.

"Everyone was really friendly. But it was tough meeting a person when you came into port because no sooner did I say hello than I had to say goodbye, especially at the pace I was moving.

"But you build lasting relationships with other sailors and, generally, you're going in the same direction, so you see them in the next port - and you're both surmounting the same obstacles. It's special. You really get to know the people."

What about his age, compared to the others?

"It blew them away that I was that young. I think a lot of them wished they could have been out there at this age."

How did he feel when Diamond Head finally came into view - and he was given a hero's welcome home?

"It was a mixture of excitement and disappointment: disappointment that it was over and excitement that I would be seeing my parents.

"It still seems unrealistic that I'm here in Honolulu - it took so much time and effort to get here. But it's nice to be back. I'm taking advantage of my time on land."

What's next for the articulate young sailor?

"I'm going to go for the youngest unassisted nonstop solo circumnavigation," he said. "Hopefully on a boat between 40 and 60 feet.

"With any luck I'll leave late next year and go from Hawaii to Hawaii via the five great southern capes and oceans. It would take between six and eight months."

Is he anxious to set sail on the next great adventure?

"I'm more comfortable at sea than on land," said Brian "BJ" Caldwell, as the burnt-orange sun started to set on the vast turquoise sea, far beyond the shelter of the Ala Wai harbor.

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Community] [Information] [Feedback]