Locked Up Abroad: Where Are They Now: Frank Sayre

If you tuned in to Frank Sayre’s heart-pounding story on Locked Up Abroad: Mexican Prison Escape, I’m sure you have questions. We checked in with Frank to get answers and see what life is like for him today and here’s what he had to say:

When did you first learn how to sail?
I was 13 and living in San Francisco out in the Sunset District (lower avenues). Neighborhood pals invited me to come to the Sea Scout Base at the foot of Van Ness. I was enthralled and joined. SF Bay is a fantastic place to play on the water.

At the time of this story, you owned a 40-foot sailboat. Had you and your brother used it to traffic drugs successfully before the voyage with Mike, Mace & Paul?
Yes, to great success. My partner had been picked up (DEA agents). Both of us were fugitive, so was Dan but by a bust from two years previous. Our plane was no longer of use, so I decided to run a load up using a sail boat. I had the money and bought the boat of my dreams, put together a crew, contacted Dan who was living in Mazatlan and worked out a deal with him. I sailed down, picked up 1.500 pounds of marijuana, and made it back to the states two days before X-mas.

What was your planned course for smuggling the ton of weed into the States?
The same course as the  first time. Sail north, taking long offshore tacks till we reached a California state park (Gaviota) and offload. Surfer friends of Dan would help. Dan was aboard this time but not the first time.

There are two schools of thought to this. The other was to have taken one very long tack out till one reaches the trade winds, then when enough latitude is made, tack back in. This would have been the better choice.

On the night you guys shipwrecked, what do you think went wrong? Anything that should have been done differently?
I broke a cardinal rule of seamanship (Never make an inshore tack at night). I had misjudged it, but it was compounded by a sleepy crew member. Had I ordered the man on the first watch (Mike) to make an offshore tack, this problem would never have happened.

Have you ever been on a sailboat again, after that terrifying shipwreck ordeal?
Yes! I went on to own a 48 foot yawl (with a group of people) a 33 foot sloop and a 30 foot sloop. My passion for sailing ran deep, but it was now with a renewed purpose: the sea and all it’s elements had humbled me. I saw life differently. I appreciated life in a way I had not previously. I was more cautious, more aware of what I was doing while sailing and in every day life. 

What was the scariest thing you witnessed in the Mexican prison?
Several times fear ran its course. Mike received word from his pal Martin (Mex inmate) one day (this was in October) that something heavy had gone down the night before. A guard, for whatever odd reason (maybe he forgot the keys), had left a drunk in the corridor, and by the time he returned the drunk had basted in the head of the inmate who owned and ran a small kitchen. (We often ordered meals at 40 cents each from this man) and had killed him. All of us lived in small Caracas (small huts, dwellings 8×8 to 8×16).

Any inmate at any time could enter our dwellings at night and murder us. I got into a fight one morning with an inmate. It happened so suddenly there was nothing I could do to prevent the onslaught. Fortunately it was put to an end when the Vice Presidente of our sector  saw what was going on. But, I’d made an enemy.

 There was not one single thing I witnessed but was part of when Dan and Mike escaped from the ferry. The guard in charge had a major crap fit. Seeing the two of them gone he leveled his Colt-45 at my head. I could do nothing in that instant. I froze and stared back at him. Instead of doing squeezing off a round he smacked me across the back of my head… which was no big deal… but for a moment I had been petrified.

During lock-up, were you surprised by anything you missed? (ex: a particular food, drink, scent, or clothing item?)
There were the usual pangs for good old American food or just the freedom to go for a walk/hike, a sail, out to dinner. I was happy that we had enough money and could order out for our food. What I really miss was my lover, Sarah. I promised her we’d sail off to Hawaii but Mike, Mace, and Paul showed up. Having a crew I decided to break that promise. Boy, did I feel lowdown after having wrecked the boat and landed all of us in jail not to mention the lose of revenue. I missed her terribly. I wanted so badly to hold her and tell how and maybe even why I’d ruined everything.

Your brother Dan was locked up abroad with you. Did going through this experience together challenge or grow your relationship?
Both. We had always been fierce competitors, always showing who was best. When I landed us in jail he lorded over me when I wanted him to get over it and be a loving brother. 

What’s life like for you these days? What are you up to?
I spent years getting over what it was that I had done. What drove me to write the book had everything to do with understanding why I self-destructed as what my older bro had done as well as my partner? None of us has escaped the emotional back wash we created. I do not wish to go into what became of them, but as for me I became a better person for having written the book and living an uplifting life.

I learned that I had to love and accept all aspects of myself. It’s an on-going feat of accomplishment. I would advise that all people begin learning to love all aspects of who they are.

What am I doing now? I’ve become a writer as a result  of learning to write and self-publishing a book. I’ll be marketing that book (American Brothers) and another that is already written. The next book is about how I went about learning how to love.


  1. Whitney Spence
    wenatchee wa
    June 21, 2013, 1:30 am

    Hello Frank my dad was mike spence from ellensburg wa . He was involved in you venture… from 1967 to 1987 he recently passed away from cancer. I saw your geo special and it struck me and that you guys did the same thing out of the same town at the same town. I’d love to possibl chat with you for a bit and see if you remember my dad. Thanks.

  2. Michael
    SE Asia
    September 5, 2013, 9:33 am

    Hello Frank,

    What an adventure and awesome story. Glad you guys made it. And glad that you turned your life around. I wish I could have a beer with you and Mike Cooke. Take care!

  3. terre
    New Zealand
    April 2, 2014, 6:03 am

    Hi Frank,
    I’ve met you in the Mazatlan jail, meeting with
    Joe Ulllery in attempts for your escape…via my mother.
    It would be good to hear from you.
    My attempts at your escape were horrifying as well.