Two American sailors and their two dogs were rescued Wednesday after surviving five months lost at sea.
On May 3, Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava set off on a 2,700-mile journey from Oahu, Hawaii, to Tahiti in their 50-foot sailboat, the “Sea Nymph.” Appel was an experienced sailor. Fuiava was a novice.
They had packed plenty of food and a water purifier, and — accompanied by Appel’s two dogs, Valentine and Zeus — they were hoping to have an epic adventure.
As it turns out, they got more than they bargained for.
First, a piece of their mast failed. Then, on May 30, a storm flooded the engine and took out most of their communications.
Appel and Fuiava began making daily distress calls. For 98 days straight, they tried to get someone to answer, but they were always out of range. They spotted ships that didn’t respond, and fired off at least 10 flares. They sank into despair.
One terrifying night, a group of seven sharks — including five adults measuring 20 to 30 feet in length — slapped their tails on the hull repeatedly. Appel believed that the adults were teaching the two younger sharks how to attack.
“I went downstairs with the boys and we basically laid huddled on the floor and I told them not to bark because the sharks could hear us breathing. They could smell us,” Appel told NBC News.
The next night, one of the sharks returned and attacked again.
The women started to think they would never be found — but on the 99th day of distress calls, a Taiwanese fishing vessel found them and began towing the sailboat to safety. They damaged the boat despite their best efforts, so the fishing vessel radioed for American sailors to come to the rescue.
When the USS Ashland arrived at around 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Appel blew kisses at the approaching vessel and the two dogs barked and ran excitedly around the boat.
The women were 900 miles west of Japan — and nearly 5,000 miles off their intended course.
The women told reporters about their ordeal during a conference call. “Thank God we were being rescued,” Appel said when recalling their first interaction with the U.S. Navy. “I have tears in my eye as I say this. It was incredibly emotional and it was so satisfying to know that the men and women who serve their country would come and assist us. It was actually quite mind-blowing and quite humbling.”
Still, she said that the ordeal took a mental toll on both women. “It was very depressing and it was very hopeless but it’s the only thing you can do, so you do what you can with what you have,” Appel told reporters in a conference call. “You have no other choice.”
Shockingly, Appel told reporters that the ordeal has not dissuaded them from sailing again. “Well you’ve got to die sometime,” she said. “You might as well be doing something you enjoy when you’re doing it, right?”