Sailboat survivors recount doomed Pacific voyage


The two sailors were prepared with more than a year’s worth of food, and after more than five months of loss in the vast Pacific, sending daily distress calls, they were rescued by the United States Navy. They had been thousands of miles off course.

HONOLULU (AP) — Trapped on a storm-battered boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for months, Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava were pretty much out of food and were beginning to believe they were out of luck when they finally saw it: a US Navy ship is heading towards them.

“When I saw the gray ship on the horizon, I was shaking,” Appel told reporters on Friday. “I was ready to cry, I was so happy. I knew we were going to live.

The couple, followed by their dogs, Zeus and Valentine, boarded the USS Ashland on Wednesday, all four looking remarkably fit having been lost at sea for nearly six months.

They had been drifting aimlessly across the Pacific since late May and sent unanswered distress calls for 98 consecutive days before crew members aboard a passing Taiwanese fishing boat saw them on Tuesday and inform the Navy.

They had left Honolulu on May 3 aboard Appel’s 50-foot vessel, the Sea Nymph, for what was to be an 18-day voyage to Tahiti, followed by months of leisurely cruising in the South Pacific before returning home. .

Disaster struck almost immediately when a storm battered their boat with winds of 50 to 70 miles per hour for three days as they left Hawaii. They continued anyway, thinking that the ship was not so badly damaged.

By the end of the month, another storm had flooded their boat’s engine, however, and they discovered that her sails and mast had been damaged enough earlier that they could no longer generate enough wind power to keep the boat going. ship on course.

They were 900 miles off the coast of Japan, and thousands of miles in the wrong direction, when a Taiwanese fishing boat found them and began towing them.

As the fishing boat attempted to tow the Sea Nymph, the 100-ton steel vessel damaged the much smaller sailboat as it towed it across the ocean.

“We suffered unbelievable damage,” Appel said of the scariest 24-hour tow of the trip. It didn’t help that the women only spoke English, a language not spoken on the fishing boat.

“We had a really hard time communicating with them that they were going to sink us in the next 24 hours,” she said.

Eventually, she was able to swim to the fishing boat and use her radio to make a distress call.

The Navy ship showed up on Wednesday, the next morning. When he seemed just as quickly to pass them by, they momentarily panicked once more.

“Okay, we’ll get there,” Appel told himself after the sailors radioed from the deck of the Ashland that they had seen them.

Their boat, considered no longer seaworthy, was allowed to drift after their rescue, although Appel says she hopes to eventually salvage and repair it.

She and Fuiava acknowledged that until the Navy arrived, they began to wonder if they would really survive.

Appel attributed their survival in part to veteran Hawaii sailors who warned them to prepare well for their voyage.

“They said pack every square inch of your boat with food, and if you think you need a month, pack six months, because you have no idea what might happen there,” Appel said. “And the Honolulu sailors gave us really good advice. We are here.

They thought they had packed enough to last a year, but as they approached six months, they found they had covered 90%. The dogs’ food had run out and they were sharing theirs with them.

Most Read National and World Stories

“Dogs turned out to really like human food,” Appel said.

“A lot,” added Fuiava.

One of their water purifiers had also broken down, but they managed to fix it.

One night a pod of tiger sharks began attacking their vessel, and the next morning a shark returned and rammed the boat again, Appel said. “We were incredibly lucky that our hull was strong enough to withstand the onslaught,” she said in a video interview provided by the Navy.

Although Appel has been sailing the Hawaiian Islands for 10 years and spent two years preparing for this trip, she acknowledged that she and Fuiava, a novice sailor, may not have prepared as well as they did. they could have.

They said they tried unsuccessfully to call out a number of ships and fired 10 flares. One of their cell phones had been washed overboard at the start of the trip, but they were out of reach anyway.

They carried two GPS units; one failed and they had to rely on the portable model the entire trip, Appel said in a phone interview from the USS Ashland on Friday.

They also had a new VHF radio, an amateur radio, a weather satellite and a radiotelephone. She says none worked and they apparently had a communication failure with their new antenna.

She says they had six ways to communicate with multiple backups, and none of them worked. This, she said, “is beyond Murphy’s Law.”

They even carried a satellite phone which she said never seemed to connect.

The two women became fast friends a few years ago when Appel was working on his boat and Fuiava was a security guard at the boat facility.

Appel invited her on a sailing adventure south of the equator.

“I’ve never been there and I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Appel said. “She said, ‘OK, this sounds like an adventure.'”

Meanwhile, relatives had no idea where they were. Appel’s mother said she contacted the Coast Guard despite not hearing from her a week and a half into the trip, and records show the Coast Guard sent a message on June 7 indicating that the ship had disappeared.

As the months passed and Appel’s mother heard nothing, she said she never gave up hope.

“She’s very resourceful and she’s curious, and when things break she tries to fix them,” Joyce Appel, 75, of Houston, said of her daughter. “She doesn’t sit down and wait for the repairman to come. “So I knew the same would be true for the boat.”

She finally got a call from her daughter early Thursday.

“She said, ‘Mom?’ and I said, ‘Jennifer!?’ because I hadn’t heard from her for about five months,” she said. “And she said, ‘Yes, Mom,’ and that was really exciting.”

Despite the ordeal, Appel says she’s far from done with the sea. If she can find and fix her boat, she’ll be ready to take it out again.

“Well, you have to die someday,” she said. “You might as well be doing something you love when you’re doing it, right?”


Associated Press writer John Rogers in Los Angeles; Mark Thiessen and Rachel D’Oro in Anchorage, Alaska; Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska; and Ken Moritsugu in Tokyo contributed to this story.


Comments are closed.