German couple sailing the world find unexpected refuge in B.C.

·4 min read

Marion and Paul Bauer left Bavaria in 2017. They boarded their sailboat planning to circumnavigate the globe.

And they enjoyed every nautical mile of their post-retirement life, crossing European cities through the Baltic Sea, proceeding towards Cape Verde in Africa and from there sailing the Atlantic Ocean.

When they were nearing Panama in April 2020, they heard about “the coronavirus” through a brief satellite message from a family member.

Paul and Marion had no idea about the extent of chaos this new virus had caused back on land as they had been out of communication for months. Marion, a nurse by profession, assumed that it could be something to do with the heart since it had the term corona in it.

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By the time they reached Hawaii, the human race’s social etiquette had changed. Faces were masked, social distancing had set in and all group gatherings were prohibited.

Life at sea was not very different from the isolation that was being undertaken back on land, so the couple spent most of their time on boat while docked at ports with their routines unchanged.

But they had to pivot their sailing plan to the south Pacific Ocean as most countries in the region had begun implementing strict lockdowns.

They carried on towards Alaska with the hope of anchoring in Canada before heading to the U.S. where they decided to halt and plan their route to turn back and head home. Their arrival in Canada in October last year at Prince Rupert was “not the best experience,” said Paul.

“We were denied entry and not even allowed to anchor at the port to refuel,” he said. “There were other sailors who were let in at the same port but not us.”

Tired and upset, they had no option but to turn around and head towards Washington.

It was during this stretch that their boat– named Luna Mare – sustained a leak after bumping into a rock in the Strait of Georgia at night, near Campbell River. The emergency, relayed through radio, led officials to give them entry into Campbell River, where they were able to anchor and get their boat fixed.

The repairs took over a month and gave them time to quarantine and take a break from all the unexpected challenges.

Paul and Marion went for long walks, explored the numerous hiking trails at Elk Falls and made a couple of friends in the city. Their opinion about Canada as an “unfriendly” place slowly changed as they anchored at Discovery Harbour in Campbell River and planned their route back to Europe.

They have spent a little over five months in Campbell River as they waited for the next sailing window to head back.

Thanksgiving of 2020 was spent on boat – Marion made a special turkey dish and Paul made his signature beans with chestnut and bacon. On Christmas and New Year they connected with their grandchildren and family via video calls.

And they forged a good friendship with a couple of Campbell Riverites.

“People are nice here,” Paul said, redeeming the unpleasant impression he had of the country upon arrival.

Ten years ago, when they took sailing classes, they both never imagined they would undertake a global sailing adventure like the one they embarked on, and they certainly did not anticipate a global pandemic to be the cherry on the top of their challenge list.

When they set out in 2017, they wanted to experience life at sea and not just settle into the routine of retirement that awaited them after their careers, says Paul. 2020 certainly exceeded all their expectations of this experience, according to him.

“Life at sea is peaceful,” and perhaps even helped them sustain sanity when COVID-19 had turned life upside-down for most land dwellers.

This week, Paul and Marion departed Campbell River, homeward bound through the Atlantic Ocean. They intend to complete the final leg of their journey – sailing through the waters of the Pacific Ocean – when the world is “back to normal.”

Binny Paul, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Campbell River Mirror