While I was researching for my article about the tragedy south of Nova Scotia in which Volker-Karl Frank and Annamarie Auer-Frank were fatally injured on the CNB 66 Escape, I interviewed the salvage master, Phil Wash.
At the request of the insurance company, Phil went out with a team on a fishing boat out of Pubnico, Nova Scotia, found the abandoned boat, secured the mainsail and boom, got the systems going again, and brought her back to Halifax under her own power supplemented by the headsails.
Crew that boarded S/V Escape and brought her safely into Halifax:
- Phil Wash
- Mike Coady
- Les Savage
Crew of F/V Life Sentence out of Pubnico, Nova Scotia:
- Bob Hines, owner
- Gordon Moulaison
- Garth D’Entrement
I also spoke with Gordon and Garth, and Garth kindly provided the photos.
The Real Hard Men
Gordon and Bob fish off Cape Sable, Nova Scotia, some of the most challenging waters anywhere in the world, in a lobster season that runs from late November to the end of May—you read that right, winter North Atlantic.
Gordon then takes the boat to go after other species in the summer, ranging from the Grand Banks south to the Gulf Stream.
Garth is the chief mate on a trawler that fishes for shrimp from Hudson Strait to Greenland, for as much of the year as the ice will let them…and sometimes past that—Garth’s trawler got damaged by ice last year and needed extensive repair. (Garth was not aboard on that trip.)
To figure out where Escape might have ended up, Gordon used his experience of fishing the edges of the Gulf Stream with drift gear to augment the drift predictions they were getting from other sources.
After four days of searching, Gordon was on watch in the middle of the night and got a weak radar target at 14 miles and altered course toward it. The target did not firm up until four miles.
Once again, Gordon’s experience played a part because he knew that there was no fishing gear in that area, even though the weak target looked like exactly that and others might have passed it by.
And there Escape was, 83 nautical miles from her last known position.
Phil boarded in the morning, deeply apprehensive because at that point he had not been briefed on the tragedy and so had no idea what he would find. A murder scene? A boat stuffed with drugs fought over by rival cartels?
The State of The Boat
Phil shared the state of Escape when they got aboard:
- The main boom was resting on the dodger and the remnants of the bimini.
- The main halyard had been cut, or possibly broken, just above the constrictor clutch that secured it.
- The mainsail was partially roller reefed but the luff had tracked forward in the process and jammed the mechanism.
- Quite a lot of the remaining mainsail was still partially hoisted.
After comparing what the salvage crew found to the account in Blue Water Sailing, Phil and I surmise that:
- The jam in the in-boom roller reefing occurred after Karl and Annamarie where injured, as the remaining two crew tried to get the mainsail down—confirmed by the report.
- In-boom roller furlers take very precise handling, by someone experienced with that particular installation, in order to furl without jamming, particularly in gale force conditions.
- The halyard was cut by the surviving crew, maybe because they could not get the clutch to release.
- That type of constrictor clutch securing the halyard—think Chinese finger trap—is known for being difficult to operate by those unfamiliar with them.
Phil also found a lot of Clipper Race crew gear aboard, indicating that Karl and/or Annamarie had done one or more legs of that gruelling race.
Bringing Her In
Once Phil had assessed the situation aboard Escape, Les and Mike boarded and the team got the rig stabilized, and then figured out how to get the systems up and running and the engine started. Not an easy task since everything was labeled in German and Escape is a very complicated boat.
They then unfurled the headsails and headed for Halifax harbour, where they arrived a couple of days later, exhausted but justifiably elated at what they had accomplished.
This was an amazing achievement that only a mariner and boat technician of Phil’s caliber and experience, assisted by other experienced sailors, could have pulled off.
Phil is the person that every boat owner in his wide circle of friends, including me, calls when we have a problem that no one else can figure out how to fix, or a tough ocean passage to do.
Just one example of how resourceful Phil is: A couple of years ago when the drive pulley on his J/120 engine freshwater pump broke late one afternoon at the start of a club cruise, Phil hitched a ride home, found a lump of aluminum, machined a new one in his fully equipped home shop, napped for a couple of hours, hitched a ride back to the boat, and had the engine running the following morning so as to meet the rest of us at the next anchorage that afternoon.
As I often say, if McMaster-Carr doesn’t have the bits we need, and/or Phil Wash can’t fix it, we are truly and utterly screwed.
Done and Dusted
Sure, the team was assisted by a good run of settled weather, but none the less, if you want to head out 250 miles into the North Atlantic and search for a needle in a haystack—Escape was not transmitting any position information—Bob, Gordon and Garth are the guys you need.
And then Phil, Mike and Les delivered the boat back to Halifax without the risks of towing, and without drama or fuss. Not easy either. It’s hard for those who have not spent time at sea to understand the difficulty of getting unfamiliar and complex systems up and running, particularly as a boat rolls in leftover swell.
- My analysis of the the tragedy with recommendations (free to read).
- I have written about the fishers of Southwestern Nova Scotia before in The Real Hard Men (free).
- Lessons from other disasters at sea (some articles are free).