Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava set off for Tahiti on May 3rd, but suffered engine failure and even a broken mast. To make matters worse, their phone fell overboard on the first day.
The two women, both from Honolulu, Hawaii, were finally spotted on Tuesday by a Taiwanese fishing vessel roughly 900 miles southeast of Japan. The USS Ashland, a 610-foot Navy ship, set out to find them and arrived by 10:30am on Wednesday morning.
“I’m grateful for their service to our country. They saved our lives,” Appel said in a statement released by the Navy. “The pride and smiles we had when we saw [U.S. Navy] on the horizon was pure relief.”
Tasha Fuiaba, an American mariner who had been sailing for five months on a damaged sailboat, climbs the accommodation ladder to board the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay/Released)
How did the two women and their dogs survive for so long without access to fresh water? They had water purifiers and a year’s supply of dry food, including pasta, rice, and oatmeal.
Trouble started brewing for the women on May 30th, less than a month after first taking off from Hawaii. They hit a patch of bad weather but continued on anyway. They spent five months waiting for help, sending out distress calls that nobody could hear.
“It was very depressing, and it was very hopeless,” Appel said on a phone call with the media that was organised by the US Navy. “The only thing you can do, you use what you can and what you have. You have no other choice.”
Sailors help Zeus, one of twos dogs who were accompanying two mariners who were aided by the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland.(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay/Released)
Aside from food, their biggest concern was sharks. The boat was constantly surrounded.
“We were slowly manoeuvring through their living room. They came by to slap their tails and tell us we needed to move along,” Appel said on the recent phone call. “They decided to use our vessel to teach their children how to hunt. They attacked at night.”
The Taiwanese fishing boat that stumbled upon the women alerted the US Coast Guard in Guam who then determined that the USS Ashland was in the best position to assist quickly.
USS Ashland Command Master Chief Gary Wise welcomes aboard Jennifer Appel, an American mariner who had received assistance from Ashland crew members. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay/Released)
The two women were brought aboard the USS Ashland and received medical assistance. They will stay aboard the ship until the Ashland’s next scheduled port of call.
“The US Navy is postured to assist any distressed mariner of any nationality during any type of situation,” Cmdr. Steven Wasson, Ashland commanding officer, said in a statement.