Two distressed mariners from Honolulu were rescued after sailing for five months on a damaged boat.
Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava set sail from Hawaii to Tahiti this spring with their two dogs.
On May 30, the boat’s engine died during bad weather.
“The storm had dropped copious amounts of water and it flooded the cockpit, which actually ended up flooding the ignition and the starter for the boat,” Appel said.
They continued on, believing they could make it to land.
Two months into their journey and long past when they originally estimated they would reach Tahiti, they began to issue daily distress calls. But no other vessels or shore stations were near enough to hear them.
Appel said they survived by bringing water purifiers and over a year’s worth of food on board, primarily in the form of dry goods such as oatmeal, pasta and rice.
“It was very depressing, and it was very hopeless,” she said. “The only thing you can do, you use what you can and what you have. You have no other choice.”
Both described a chilling experience with sharks surrounding the sailboat.
“We were slowly maneuvering through their living room. They came by to slap their tails and tell us we needed to move along,” Appel said. “They decided to use our vessel to teach their children how to hunt. They attacked at night.”
“You can’t get any help at all because you’re in the middle of nowhere, and if it falls apart around you, you’re swimming, and you’re shark bait,” said Fuiava.
On Oct. 24, they were discovered 900 miles southeast of Japan by a Taiwanese fishing vessel.
The vessel contacted Coast Guard Sector Guam who then coordinated with Taipei Rescue Coordination Center, the Japan Coordination Center, and the Joint Coordination Center in Honolulu to help.
The amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland, based in Sasebo, Nagasaki, responded and brought the women and their dogs on board by 1:18 p.m.
“I’m grateful for their service to our country. They saved our lives. The pride and smiles we had when we saw [the U.S. Navy] on the horizon was pure relief,” said Appel. “When we saw you guys coming over the horizon, it was like, ‘Oh, God! We’ve been saved.’ It was the most amazing feeling because we honestly did not believe that we would survive another 24 hours in the current situation.”
The mariners will remain on board until Ashland’s next port of call.