On Their Way reacquaints MV Times readers with people who grew up on Martha’s Vineyard and have moved on to establish themselves in careers on or off Island. We are looking for young people who have distinguished themselves by their accomplishments in the arts, business, in social services, in the military, in academics, in fact in any meaningful way. We welcome your suggestions.
Brock Callen Jr. of Edgartown, a 1998 graduate of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) and a 34-year-old father of two, is a professional sailor. The classic image of a bedraggled, roughly hewn old salt uncomfortable on land described in countless seafaring novels does not match the fit, athletic-looking Mr. Callen who has the constant smile and sunny countenance of a man who is happy in his profession.
Traveling the globe to crew on very fast sailboats in the off-season, Mr. Callen tends a 65-foot Reichel/Pugh-designed racing yacht, Moneypenny, during the summer in Edgartown. In between, he sails competitively at speeds approaching 50 miles per hour as a professional member of the BEST Kiteboarding team.
“I love competing,” Mr. Callen told The Times in a recent telephone call. “I love training. It is an amazing feeling to be a part of a team and to work together to execute perfectly choreographed maneuvers. It is an amazing feeling to be able to take something as dynamic as the ocean and then try to use it to your advantage to be the best. It is amazing and humbling.”
Mr. Callen is called Brocker by his family to distinguish him from his father, Brock Callen, director of Sail Martha’s Vineyard (Sail MV), a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to celebrating and protecting the Vineyard’s maritime heritage. His mother, Hope, is administrative director of SailMV.
The senior Brock shared his love of the water with his son at an early age. “When I was very little kid my father instilled in me a huge respect for the Ocean,” Brocker said. “I had to row my dinghy around an island in Quitsa Pond before I got to use an engine or a sail. Then when I was older dad took me on overnight races. I was still probably only 8 or 9.”
At about the age of 16, Brocker’s brother in law, Ace Bailey, the bowman on the two-time America’s Cup winner Courageous, took him under his wing and introduced him to the world of professional racing.
Brocker sailed on the MVRHS sailing team and for three years on his Division I college team at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Soon after graduating college, Mr. Callen’s racing career experienced a tragic turn.
In May 2002, Brocker was crewing on the 66-foot racing sloop, Blue Yankee, during the Block Island Race, an ocean race on Long Island Sound. A spinnaker pole broke during a sail change and knocked bowman Jamie Boeckel overboard as the sailboat raced along at 13 knots. Without hesitation, Mr. Callen, who was not wearing a lifejacket, dove into the 53-degree water in an attempt to save his friend’s life.
Mr. Callen held the unresponsive Mr. Boeckel afloat for a few minutes but eventually was unable to keep the unconscious sailor from sinking, according a story published August 21, 2002 in Sailing World Magazine . Mr. Callen was near hypothermic shock when he was pulled from the water. Mr. Boeckel’s body was recovered several weeks later.
“Being part of a team helped me deal with the loss of my friend,” Mr. Callen said. “When I look back it makes me appreciate how fortunate I am to be doing what I am doing and it makes me want to work harder.”
The death was an event that would resonate with both son and father. For his father and mother, PFD use is a mission. Brock and Hope Callen started the “Put It On!” campaign after the tragic loss of Jamie Boeckel.
Much of Brocker’s year is spent as a competitive sailor crewing on one the world’s fastest TP52 boats, Vesper, a 52-foot, hi-tech, carbon fiber, monohull class boat that sails with a crew of 12. Vesper is owned and skippered by James Swartz, a venture capitalist, who summers in Edgartown. The boat enters races around the globe from California to Spain.
He returned to the Vineyard from Spain last week to spend a weekend home with his children and wife, Sheylah, after overseeing the unloading of Vesper from a container ship he had helped load in Florida the week before. He was off to Newport on sailing business on Monday.
In his high school yearbook, Brocker chose a quote from Herman Melville’s classic novel “Moby Dick” for his senior photo that sums up the years following his graduation: “I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world…. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth…I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”