Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava, two sailors from Hawaii who were rescued last Wednesday after being lost at sea for five months, stepped onto solid ground Monday for the first time since their misadventure began on May 3.
Appel and Fuiava, along with their two dogs, Zeus and Valentine, arrived at America's White Beach Naval Facility in Okinawa, Japan, aboard the USS Ashland after a disastrous attempt to sail to Tahiti, according to the Associated Press and NBC News.
"We never got a chance to go to Tahiti, or Papeete, or Moorea," Appel said upon arriving in Okinawa, referring to the destinations they planned to visit. "We still never got to see the 20,000 islands [of the South Pacific] so I think that would be the most fantastic trip for May of next spring."
A trip like that is said to typically take around a month. So much for the best-laid plans.
The pair, described by Appel as "greenhorns in the sailing world," departed Honolulu on the 2,600-mile trip to Tahiti and wound up 5,000 miles from their intended destination after their 50-foot sailboat Sea Nymph sustained a broken mast and took on water during a storm nearly a month into their journey, KHON reported.
The cockpit was flooded, crippling the ignition and starter for the boat. They attempted to make it back to Hawaii under failed sails and were within 726 nautical miles of Oahu.
"We knew we weren't going to make it," Appel said, according to AP. "So that's when we started making distress calls. We were hoping that one of our friends who likes to go deep-sea fishing and taking people out might have gone past the 400-mile mark and might have cruised near where we would be."
The sailors continued sending distress signals for 98 consecutive days without anyone answering.
Finally, a Taiwanese fishing boat found them last Tuesday about 900 miles southeast of Japan and attempted to tow them but without success. Appel then used a surfboard to paddle to the fishing boat and make a mayday call.
The USS Ashland answered the call, traveled 100 miles and found them the next day; the fishing vessel presumably had already departed the scene.
"When I saw the gray ship on the horizon, I was just shaking," Appel told reporters on Friday. "I was ready to cry, I was so happy. I knew we were going to live.
"Had [the USS Ashland] not been able to locate us, we would have been dead within 24 hours," Appel said in Okinawa on Monday.
Fortunately, Appel and Fuiava had water purifiers and over a year's worth of food with them, though supplies were already running low.
"It was very depressing, and it was very hopeless," she said. "The only thing you can do, you use what you can and what you have. You have no other choice."
Both described a chilling experience with sharks surrounding the sailboat.
"We were slowly maneuvering through their living room. They came by to slap their tails and tell us we needed to move along," Appel said. "They decided to use our vessel to teach their children how to hunt. They attacked at night."
"You can't get any help at all because you're in the middle of nowhere, and if it falls apart around you, you're swimming, and you're shark bait," said Fuiava.
The commander of the USS Ashland determined that the sailboat was too damaged to be repaired and it was left adrift, according to FOX News. Appel and Fuiava hope the Sea Nymph will be found one day so they can rebuild it. If not they'll set out again on another sailboat, hopefully with better results.
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