German sailors Annemarie Auer and Volker Frank, aboard their CNB 66 yacht, Escape, have a near-perfect strategy for sailing through these uncertain COVID-19 times: They have no plan.
OK, they can tell you where they’ll be next week, and they will explain how they expect to get there and where they might be on to next. But the big picture? They want to see the world. That’s it. Their timeline is open-ended. And as for destinations, they’re keeping an open mind about that too.
I met the couple on a sunny, warm early-October morning in Annapolis, Maryland, where we were taking a lay day from our Boat of the Year sea-trial duties. Escape’s carbon mast was by far the tallest stick in the marina, tucked just inside the bridge at Spa Creek. When I arrived dockside to knock on their hull, Volker was deep down in a cockpit locker cleaning what looked to be an already spotless space.
The couple had taken possession of their brand-spanking-new boat a year and a half earlier with the intention of, well, making their escape, an adventure Annemarie chronicles at sailingescape.blog. From Bordeaux, they crossed the Bay of Biscay and made their way to the Canary Islands, where they kicked around for five months before joining the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, which got them as far as St. Lucia. “It was great,” Annemarie says of the ARC. “It was an experience we liked. I had a feeling of safety.”
From there they made their way to Martinique, where they left Escape for a brief visit home to Cologne, Germany. Then they arrived back in Le Marin just ahead of the pandemic lockdown. For some, being sidelined in a foreign country is a challenge bordering on a nightmare. For the crew of Escape? Not so much.
They describe the strict quarantine as a two-month holiday on their boat, surrounded by a large sailing community. They enjoyed the daily radio net and met tons of other liveaboards as they socialized by dinghy. “For us, it was not a problem,” Annemarie says.
When restrictions eased, they sailed north to the US Virgin Islands and joined the Salty Dawg rally to the States. The passage, which ended at the Chesapeake Bay in June, took them eight days. At sea, Volker does most of the sailing, with Annemarie standing the occasional watch during daylight while he naps. He says he enjoys essentially singlehanding the boat, taking advantage of the in-boom electric mainsail furler and the triple-headsail rig’s self-tacking jib. The CNB is the couple’s fourth boat. They first got into sailing by chartering with friends, then bought a Sunbeam 29, which they kept in the Med. Their last boat was a Bavaria 55 in Mallorca.
Over the summer, they anchored off the Statue of Liberty, hopscotched through New England, and sailed north as far as Roque Island in Maine before returning to Annapolis. It’s the first time they’ve sailed in the States, and the Franks say they’re struck by how friendly people have been. “It’s a lot of freedom, sailing here,” Volker says, adding that compared with the Med, “you can anchor anywhere.”
After sorting out a few boat issues in Annapolis, the Franks plan to head south to the Bahamas and then back to the Caribbean for the winter.
Down below on Escape’s main bulkhead next to Volker’s office, there’s a world map with hand-drawn routes showing the Franks’ travels through Europe, across the Atlantic, and north nearly to the Canadian border and back. He says they’d like to return to visit the East Coast again before heading for the canal and across the Pacific. Perhaps the future holds a year or two in Australia, a winter in New Zealand and then a voyage north to Japan. “Forget the Indian Ocean,” he says. But the Pacific Northwest is definitely on their to-see list, along with Hawaii. When might that happen? Who knows. With COVID-19 restrictions, it’s impossible to chart a course, Volker admits. But right now? “We are happy,” he says. And as for seeing the world? “We have time.”