Women adrift at sea for 5 months, back on dry land

2017-10-30 13:36
Jennifer Appel hugs a crew member of the USS Ashland. (Koji Ueda, AP)

Jennifer Appel hugs a crew member of the USS Ashland. (Koji Ueda, AP)

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White Beach Naval Facility - Two women from Hawaii who were adrift on a storm-battered sailboat in the Pacific for months set foot on solid ground on Monday at a US Naval base in southern Japan.

The USS Ashland rescued Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava and their two dogs about 1 450km southeast of Japan, and brought them to America's White Base Naval Facility after waiting for a typhoon to pass.

The two women, sporting USS Ashland knit shirts, were standing with the commanding officer and others high on the bridgeway as the ship docked. They later spoke to reporters on the flight deck before clearing customs and walking down metal stairs to the dock.

They had left Honolulu on May 3 aboard Appel's 15m vessel, the Sea Nymph, for what was supposed to be an 18-day trip to Tahiti. Storms flooded the engine and damaged the mast and sails so badly, they couldn't generate enough wind power to stay on course.

They tried to return and at one point in June were within 1 345km of Oahu, but couldn't make it.

"We knew we weren't going to make it," Appel said. "So that's when we started making distress calls. We were hoping that one of our friends who likes to go deep sea fishing and taking people out might have gone past the 650km mark and might have cruised near where we would be."

They drifted aimlessly and sent unanswered distress calls for 98 consecutive days.

They were thousands of kilometres in the wrong direction when a Taiwanese fishing vessel found them. Towing the sailboat damaged it further, but Appel swam to the Taiwanese vessel to make a mayday call.

They'd run out of food for the dogs, and the woman began sharing their own, leaving their food supply 90% depleted by the time they were rescued.

On Wednesday, the USS Ashland picked up the women, plus the dogs, Zeus and Valentine, all four looking remarkably fit for having been lost at sea for nearly six months.

Appel told reporters on Friday that they were beginning to believe they were completely out of luck when they saw the US Navy ship chugging toward them.

'We were going to live'

"When I saw the grey ship on the horizon, I was just shaking," she said then. "I was ready to cry, I was so happy. I knew we were going to live."

The sailboat was abandoned at sea, but the two women are hoping it will be found and they can repair it. If not, Appel said they want to build an "unsinkable and unbreakable boat" and set out for Tahiti again.

"We still never got to see the 20 000 islands, so I think that would be the most fantastic trip for May of next spring," she said.

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

Appel credited their survival in part to the veteran sailors in Hawaii who had warned them to prepare well for their journey.

"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 could possibly happen out there," Appel said. "And the sailors in Honolulu really gave us good advice. We're here."

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