Women lost at sea for five months with two dogs arrive in Japan after miraculous discovery by Taiwanese fishing boat

The USS Ashland last week picked up the two women and their dogs – all four looking remarkably fit for having been lost at sea for months

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 October, 2017, 12:57pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 October, 2017, 10:57pm

A US Navy ship carrying two ­sailors it rescued from their storm-battered sailing boat in the Pacific docked Monday at an American naval base in Japan.

Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava were standing with the USS Ashland’s commanding officer and others high on the bridge way when the ship arrived at White Beach Naval Facility in Okinawa, five days after it picked up the women and their two dogs from their boat, some 1,400km southeast of Japan.

Appel and Fuiava had left Honolulu on May 3 aboard Appel’s 15-metre vessel the Sea Nymph for what was supposed to be an 18-day trip to Tahiti.

Storms flooded the engine on May 30 and damaged the mast and sails so badly, they couldn’t generate enough wind power to stay on course. They drifted aimlessly and sent unanswered distress calls for 98 consecutive days.

One night, a group of tiger sharks began attacking the vessel, and the next morning, a shark returned and rammed the boat again, Appel said, adding, “We were just incredibly lucky that our hull was strong enough to withstand the onslaught.”

“There is a true humility to wondering if today is your last day, if tonight is your last night,” she said.

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

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

The USS Ashland on Wednesday 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.

Fuiava said everyone she’s talked to on the USS Ashland had been open-hearted and seemed to become “my new best friend”.

Appel said in remarks the Navy shared on Sunday that she and Fuiava were honoured to be on the ship and grateful for all the crew had done for them.

“The open arms you guys have for us is top notch.”

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

“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.”

Although Appel has been sailing the Hawaiian islands for 10 years and spent two years preparing for this voyage, she acknowledged 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.”