Two women say they were lost at sea for six months. But there was no record of a storm.

It sounded like one of the great survival stories: two women and their dogs, found after being lost at sea for five months. But now, questions are being asked about Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava’s incredible journey.

The two women are friends from Honolulu. While Appel is an experienced sailor who has spent 10 years sailing around the Hawaiian islands, Fuiava had no sailing experience before starting out on the trip.

They met at a boatyard when Fuiava took a temporary job there. Appel, who owns a housing business specialising in affordable micro homes, was a regular at the yard.

“She was the only chick working on a boat,” Fuiava tells the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

For more than two years, Appel had been planning a trip from Hawaii to Tahiti on her 50-foot boat, Sea Nymph. She estimated it would take 18 days.

Appel invited Fuiava to join her, and Fuiava was keen.

“Tasha never sailed a day in her life,” Appel says. “She didn’t know how to be scared.”

Before leaving, they took advice from veteran sailors in Hawaii, packing “every square inch” of their boat with a year’s worth of supplies like oatmeal and pasta, as well as a water purifier.

Appel and Fuiava, along with their two rescue dogs, Hungarian hunting dog Valentine and pitbull mix Zeus, left Hawaii on May 3. They say they lost their phone overboard on the first day, and a string of other communications devices failed. They claim their boat was pummelled by a storm with winds greater than 100km/h.

“We got into a Force 11 storm, and it lasted for two nights and three days,” Appel said after their rescue.


This is where questions have begun to be asked.

"There is a true humility to wondering if today is your last day, if tonight is your last night." (AP Photo/Koji Ueda)

The National Weather Service in Honolulu has told the Associated Press that it has no record of a storm like the one Appel describes on May 3 or the days following.

The women continued on their way. But towards the end of May, they say their engine stopped working, due to heavy rainfall. They planned to continue, using just their sails, but the rigging on the mast was damaged. All they could do was drift.

They claim they sent out distress signals every day for 98 days, they fired off 10 flares, and they tried to hail passing vessels. But no one came to their rescue.

“When they would turn or keep going – yeah, it was kind of sad,” Fuiava told the Today Show.

Again, questions are being asked. Appel has since confirmed that the boat had an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, but they never turned it on. She says that’s because she believed it should only be used if they were in “an immediate life-threatening scenario”.

Retired Coast Guard officer Phillip R. Johnson says that if the women had turned on the beacon, their location would have been transmitted to rescuers within minutes.

The women also say they were in sight of Wake Island and asked US authorities on the island for help, but they weren’t rescued.

“I cried all afternoon,” Appel told CNN. “And the dogs licked our faces and gave us hope.”

"Had they not been able to locate us, we would have been dead within 24 hours." (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay/U.S. Navy via AP)

Appel has reported that during the voyage, their boat was attacked by tiger sharks, with one of them ramming the hull.


"There is a true humility to wondering if today is your last day, if tonight is your last night," she says.

On Tuesday last week, a Taiwanese fishing boat spotted the Sea Nymph, 1500km off Japan. The Taiwanese boat began towing the vessel and contacted the US Coast Guard in Guam. The US Navy came to the women’s rescue the next day.

“The crew of the USS Ashland saved our lives," Appel says. "Not from the ocean, but from the vessel that was trying to render assistance to us. Had they not been able to locate us, we would have been dead within 24 hours."

The Navy decided that the Sea Nymph was not seaworthy, and let the boat drift away. The two women and their dogs were brought to the Japanese island of Okinawa.

Appel’s mother Joyce, who lives in Texas, says it was “very exciting” to get a call from her daughter after not hearing from her for five months.

“I had hope all along,” she says. “She is very resourceful and she's curious, and as things break she tries to repair them, she doesn't sit and wait for the repairman to get there, so I knew the same thing would be true of the boat."

In an interview done on the USS Ashland, Appel described the feeling of being rescued as “relief and elation and joy”. But Fuiava said she also felt “utter sadness”, because the boat was their home.

“Nymphy was our baby," she said, tearing up. "She's strong and we have the bilge on, and we're just hoping to get her back."