Imagine being stranded at sea for months, enduring the persistent smell of salt on the air and a slowly dwindling food supply. These sound like the problems of a swashbuckling pirate — the makings of a wild and exciting story found in the pages of a best-selling adventure novel.
But when two women and their dogs set out for a short Pacific odyssey, the tides turned on them in a big way. Those romanticized dangers turned into real life battles for survival, and after almost half a year adrift, these two seafarers regaled a story deserving of its own novel…
In early May of 2017, Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava, along with their dogs, Valentine and Zeus, boarded their yacht, the Sea Nymph. Their course was set to sail from Honolulu to Tahiti, a trip meant to take just under 3 weeks. But plans quickly changed when the unexpected hit.
Shortly after departing, a devastating storm damaged the Sea Nymph. Their steerage system was essentially ruined, inhibiting them from keeping any sort of course. Just hours after hitting the open sea, Appel and Fuiava were rendered helpless, completely at the mercy of the Pacific.
The two women had only met a few months earlier, and they were certainly an odd duo. Appel was 47 when they started the voyage and Fuiava, just 27. Despite their significant difference in age, their experience sailing was about the same — basically none at all.
Fuiava had previously been a security guard in Samoa, while Appel was coming from a job in Texas as a landscaper. Appel’s plan was to settle on the Polynesian Island and find her way into organic farming. Fuiava was just in it for the adventure. That adventure, as it turned out, was a lot more than she bargained for.
In spite of the two women’s nominal seafaring experience, they did make some elaborate preparations. For example, they somehow had the wherewithal to stock enough food for themselves and their two dogs to last them a year. So while Appel and Fuiava were adrift on the Pacific, they could at least rest assured they wouldn’t starve.
As days turned into months, friends and family ashore grew concerned about the two women. Fuiava’s mother reported her daughter missing at sea after only days had passed and there was no word from her. Even still, their whereabouts, let alone whether or not they had survived the storm, were a mystery.
Then in late October of 2017, almost 5 months since the two women had gone missing, their boat was spotted. A crew of Taiwanese fishermen discovered the boat about 1,000 miles off the Japanese coast. As the crew approached the defeated Sea Nymph, they braced themselves to encounter the worst.
After five long months alone at sea without any contact, Appel, Fuiava, and their two dogs were alive and well! The Taiwanese fishing crew contacted the U.S. Coastguard based out of Guam. The USS Ashland was then promptly dispatched on a mission to rescue the two women and their pets.
Appel reported that seeing the Navy ship on the horizon felt like the ultimate salvation. She recounted, “They saved our lives. The pride and smiles we had when we saw [them] was pure relief.” Not surprisingly, the women also had some truly wild stories from their longtime adrift.
An ongoing encounter with a group of tiger sharks was one of the more hair-raising stories Appel shared. She explained how a group of the sharks, some up to 30 feet, had surrounded their yacht and used it as a prop in teaching the young sharks how to hunt. Appel described the sharks batting at the boat and attacking the hull at night.
As word spread about Appel and Fuiava’s rescue and the tales they relayed, people started to cast doubt on the plausibility of what the women claimed to experience. One of their biggest critics was George Brugess, a shark expert from The Florida Museum of Natural History.
Brugess cast doubt on Appel’s story of the sharks. He clarified that tiger sharks are not social animals and would never be in groups. He also made the point that tiger sharks never grow anywhere near 30 feet, and they also don’t teach their young how to hunt.
Others question the validity of the storm that wrecked them in the first place. The National Weather Service reported that there were no storms on May 3rd when the women claimed they had been ravaged. Footage from NASA satellites backed up the weather reports, yet Appel vehemently protested.
According to her, they were caught in a Force 11 storm. To prove her case, she printed out an email from a Coast Guard forecasting 10-foot waves on that date. Even so, a Force 11 storm would produce waves between 37 and 52 feet. This would make Appel’s claims more than just a small exaggeration.
The other big mystery about the Sea Nymph was why a distress signal was never sent out. There was indeed a working Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon aboard the yacht. If the women truly felt in peril, why did they never employ their rescue device?
When questioned about this, the two reported that they never felt they reached a level of danger worthy of activating the alarm. After five months of aimless drifting, maybe they just got into the ultimate chill mode? Who knows, but that was definitely a long time to sit and just hope for the best.
As Appel and Fuiava’s story came under more scrutiny, other publications came out to report on the women in a more pejoratively defaming sense. The Daily Mail uncovered some of Appel’s past that includes work as a “professional dominatrix and exotic dancer.” How this was pertinent to the story was unclear.
To their defense, the women set up a GoFundMe page. The description for their campaign gave a long, detailed account of all the was misconstrued. It has garnered many negative comments and in 11 months only raised $40.
Even with the questionable tale and contemptuous response, both women said they were not deterred from setting sail again in the future. Though they admitted they would make better preparations.
We may never know what really happened on their boat that fateful day. The important part was that no one, not even the doggies, were harmed in this strange happening. Whatever happened at sea, stayed at sea. At least in this case, anyway.
We’ve heard a thousand about how mysterious the ocean can be, but this isn’t usually the kind of mystery we imagine. Thirty-foot sharks and wild tempests sound fitting enough for an adventure novel.
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