Two women from Hawaii who were stranded for five months in the ocean are speaking out about the experience they are grateful to have survived.
On May 3, Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava set sail to Tahiti from their home in Hawaii, beginning a 2,700-mile-long journey that would take about a month. But soon, trouble hit: the mast on their boat had malfunctioned, the engine had flooded with water, most of their communication capabilities had been severed. They were adrift at sea with Appel’s two dogs, Zeus and Valentine, cut off from the world. If their technical problems weren’t worrisome enough, the two had to endure two separate attacks from tiger sharks slamming themselves into their hull.
“I was absolutely astonished and down on my knees praying to a higher power that we would hold together,” Appel recalls over a conference call with reporters. “I’ve never been so scared in my whole life… It was like an earthquake going off. There was a boom and then everything shakes, even the teeth in my head. There is nothing you can do at that point.”
The sharks even seemed to have a plan of attack, using their numbers and strength to try to capsize the vessel.
“I’m telling you I’ve never seen any Stanley Cup winner come even close to the precision these five sharks had,” Appel says. “Three would get on one side and two would get on the other side, and they would make waves and try to knock down the boat.”
Thanks to advice from local fisherman, the two brought along a years worth of food and some backup supplies in case an emergency happened. They often had to get creative, such as when two of their watermakers (a device that turns salt water into drinking water) failed, and they combined working pieces from each of the machines to make a functioning one.
The women sent distress calls for 98 days and got nothing but silence in return. The frustrating and stressful circumstance—as well as the cramped quarters—led to shouting matches, but the two say having the dogs with them helped to relieve the tension.
“We would be lying if we didn’t say that two women in a close space of 500 feet didn’t get into it every once in awhile, but we didn’t catfight or pull hair—we just threatened to throw each other overboard!” Appel says while laughing. “By having the two dogs with us, they instantly recognized a situation going south and they would intervene by coming to give us kisses, playing with us and getting us to change our mood.”
After five months adrift, the two were rescued this week after they were spotted by a Taiwanese fishing vessel some 900 miles off the coast of Japan—far from their intended route. The crew tried to tow their boat, which had a tremendous amount of sentimental value for Appel, but it was too damaged and wouldn’t have survived the trip. The fishermen contact the US Coast Guard, which alerted the USS Ashland stationed in Sasebo, Japan.
“When I saw the grey ship on the horizon, I was just shaking, I was so happy, I knew we were going to live,” Appel says. “I couldn’t have been more grateful paying taxes to the US Navy, who would honor us by going out of their way and holding up national security issues to save two women and two dogs who had erroneously ended up on the other side of the planet!”
Surviving the experience has bonded the two “friends at first sight” who have been close since they met in December 2016 while Fuiava was a security guard at the facility where Appel was doing work on her boat.
“I think the third night that I saw her, she asked me to go on this trip!” Fuiava recalls, adding that she had never before gone sailing. “Everyone thought I was crazy!”
But the two say once they make it back to Hawaii, they’re going to enjoy their favorite food, and potentially plan another adventure back to the sea.
“We learned that we love the ocean, that we can persevere past the limits of what we thought was tolerable,” Appel says. “I absolutely understand why certain people fall in love with the sea. It isn’t a thing. It’s an emotion, and it feels you, and you feel it.”