Meet Brock Callen, an 11th Hour Racing ambassador born into a family of ocean enthusiasts
Growing up on the small, picturesque island of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts, U.S., Brock Callen discovered his calling from an early age. His life was going to revolve around the ocean.
Born into a family of ocean enthusiasts committed to providing opportunities for the local community and promoting better stewardship of the environment, Brock has followed their lead and worked tirelessly in contributing to many inspiring initiatives both close to home and farther afield.
The latest project he’s passionately supporting in collaboration with 11th Hour Racing can be found on Penikese Island, just a short boat ride away from the family home on Martha’s Vineyard. To learn about it, we caught up with Brock overseas while working for the team he sails professionally for, Mini Maxi Vesper.
Read on to learn more about Brock and his passion for the ocean:
Growing up on Martha’s Vineyard
Brock grew up hiking on trails around Martha’s Vineyard and looking out at the ocean. Credit: Brian Nevins / 11th Hour Racing
When Brock was 12-years-old, his parents, Hope and Brock Sr., made the life-changing decision to leave the rat race of suburban New York behind and move the family to Martha’s Vineyard island off the coast of Massachusetts. The family took on the job of tenant farmers on a 77-acre farm once owned by Hollywood star James Cagney. It was there that Brock Jr., the youngest of three, found his paradise. Days were filled with running and biking around outside on stunning trails and the dense forests. And ultimately, falling even further in love with the ocean.
“For a kid who was always active, it was a pretty great scenario,” Brock says. “My parents’ thinking was we’d be happier and better people if we followed our love and moved to a place that was special in their hearts.
“They took a huge hit financially and worked all kinds of jobs for the betterment of our lifestyle.”
Finding where he belongs
An unbreakable connection to the ocean, a place where Brock felt instantly inspired and at peace at the same time, was formed on Martha’s Vineyard. “Some people go to church, I take to the ocean,” he says.
In his mid-teens, Brock knew the ocean was where he belonged. He “loved the possibilities” it offered his creative mind to interact with it. Many times, on beach walks with his parents, he would entertain them with ideas about what he would do if he ever caught a huge wave like the one he’d just spotted out of the corner of his eye.
Spoiler alert: Brock hasn’t changed, and his imaginative ideas have led him to spearhead many groundbreaking projects within the marine sector.
Adventures on the water is a family passion for the Callens
You don’t need to look very far to understand where Brock’s passion and commitment to environmental issues come from. “I have amazing role models in my parents,” he says. “They’re phenomenal, and I couldn’t be prouder of my entire family.
Hope and Brock Sr. first became involved with the non-profit maritime education center Sail Martha’s Vineyard in the mid-1990s. Sail MV, as it’s known, provides on-the-water and in-the-classroom education for island residents to learn the skills that enable them to be comfortable on the water that surrounds them.
Brock says: “The two of them did a phenomenal job developing these amazing programs that weren’t just about teaching kids to sail but giving them a real environmental and sustainable aspect to their upbringing.”
Brock’s parents, Brock Sr. and Hope have inspired the whole family to care for the ocean. Credit: Brian Nevins / 11th Hour Racing
Activism from an early age
Brock Sr. still pilots the ferry over to Chappaquiddick from Martha’s Vineyard. Credit: Brian Nevins / 11th Hour Racing
“My dad’s rule was that if he was skippering a boat, I got to come along,” Brock remembers of learning to sail not as much on dinghies but more as a tag along on larger boats with his father. His parents might have allowed him the freedom to explore the limitless opportunities the ocean presented, but one thing was non-negotiable: respect. Respect for the Ocean and its powerful capabilities as well as respect for its health. One story from these formative years sticks in his mind, and it’s a moment that would help shape the values he carries today.
“A guy smashed the bottom of a glass drinks bottle with a hydraulic handle and threw it overboard,” Brock says. “He claimed if it sank to the bottom, it wasn’t a problem. I started to do the same, and my dad looked at me rather sternly and said, ‘What the hell are you doing? We don’t ever do that.”
Fast forward a few years, and it was Brock Jr doing the educating as an 18-year-old sailor at the University of Old Dominion in Virginia. He had been asked to sail a regatta with a small PHRF Team. “Some crusty old blowhard goes to crunch a can up and throw it overboard,” he recalls. “I quickly put him in his place with more than a stern look and perhaps a few choice words about what winning on the ocean actually meant.”
Supporting initiatives close to his heart
From remote teaching high school students onboard the research vessel Falkor, to running ocean workshops for kids with The Rozalia Project, to teaming up with the Mariposa DR Foundation in the Dominican Republic to create products out of upcycled sails for the community, Brock has passionately supported many inspiring programs. The latter, in 2016, is one that’s close to his heart and still makes him smile to this day.
Tasked with getting rid of old racing sails and not wanting to dump them in a landfill, Brock was put in touch with the Mariposa Foundation by entrepreneur Laurel Eastman. In collaboration with 11th Hour Racing, Brock shipped a 20ft container of nylon spinnaker sails to Cabarete, where a seamistress taught girls at the Foundation how to repurpose the material by sewing products like shopping bags, clutch bags, and backpacks. The upcycled products were sold locally and the proceeds benefited both the students as well as the Foundation.
“I am still so proud of how through the introduction of two great organizations like 11th Hour Racing and Mariposa, a small project that started with a funny conversation about sails was able to expand and make a large impact in the community as a whole.”
Early memories of a ‘scary’ island
Penikese Island is rugged, remote, and has no permanent inhabitants. Credit: Brian Nevins / 11th Hour Racing
“I always thought in my head, there’s got to be something so cool and interesting out there,” Brock says of Penikese Island, a unique 75-acre block of land located between Martha’s Vineyard and Newport, Rhode Island. The island seemed so remote and unspoiled to Brock growing up and he would sail past it frequently, trying to visualize what it was like for those stepping foot on its rugged terrain.
Before its closure to the public in 2011, Penikese Island was home to a state-funded school that first opened in 1973 and served as a final opportunity for violent young males who were incarcerated by the state to rehabilitate themselves instead of serving a jail sentence.
“The idea was this school might offer them a glimpse of what else is out there,” Brock says. “It was out on its own, with limited power, and kids would get ferried out there as a destination away from the inner city.”
Despite his father initially becoming a volunteer teacher and subsequently later a board member at the school for several years, Brock never visited. “It was always a bit of a scary thought at the time,” he says. “Somewhere between a cautionary tale and a beacon of hope.”
His interest in the island never wavered, though, and little did he know that making the trip out to Penikese Island would soon become a frequent occurrence.
Helping provide new opportunities on Penikese Island
Penikese Island School first opened in 1973 and reopened in 2022 offering STEAM camps. Credit: Brian Nevins / 11th Hour Racing
Chatting away one day with his friend and colleague Kimberly Ulmer, Brock learned of the plan for Penikese Island School to reopen in 2019 under new leadership offering STEAM camps (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) to pre-teen and teenage girls. Instantly hooked, Brock offered to help in any way he could via his role as an 11th Hour Racing ambassador. His first thought was to simply support the program with equipment like life jackets and wetsuits to help the students safely interact with the water.
“I’m a big believer that for kids to buy into nature, they need to experience it,” Brock says. “You’re not going to get someone to protect the ocean if they have no direct attachment or respect for it.
“I’m always looking for creative ways to get kids to interact with the ocean. Our goal is to help the students experience the water and help them integrate their new knowledge into their lives.”
Brock is excited about the future for Penikese Island School. “It’s something that can really grow, and it has so much potential,” he says. “Kim as the Executive Director is a force, and it will prosper with her energy and passion for the ocean, STEM and sustainability.
“To see the school maintain its natural island ruggedness while using the ocean as a source of education is such a great idea.”
Remaining optimistic for a bright future
While doing the dishes at home recently, Brock accidentally left the water running slightly longer than intended. “My 11-year-old son picked up on it straight away and chided me relentlessly,” he recalls “I was so happy, as I realized he understands the consequences at hand, he gets it! As a parent, this is what we all strive to achieve, our kids holding us to a higher standard.
“While there’s a lot of negative things I’ve seen from previous generations, what I’m seeing on the positive side is encouraging. People are starting to not just pay attention but take action and it excites me.”
To end this story, we wanted to ask Brock what his advice would be for anyone like him who’s trying to not only raise awareness but make a positive change for a cause they believe in. His message? Never lose hope. (Somewhat ironic as that’s his mother’s name!)
“You’ve got to keep pushing and embrace the grind of adversity,” he says. “It’s not easy, we all fail daily but you need to keep it in perspective. My coach used to say fourth place wins regattas and the best baseball players in the world only hit four out of 10 pitches.
“It’s an upwind battle; you have wins and losses daily, but we need to maintain the optimism and keep grinding.”
Brock is encouraged by the next generation and is optimistic for a bright future. Credit: Brian Nevins / 11th Hour Racing
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