Women, dogs rescued after being lost at sea for 5+ months

HONOLULU (AP) — A planned voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti aboard a small sailboat didn’t start off well for two Honolulu women. One of their cellphones washed overboard and sank into the deep blue water on their first day at sea.

From there, things got worse. Much worse. About a month into their trip, bad weather caused their engine to lose power. Their mast was damaged. And then, as they drifted across thousands of miles of open ocean, their water purifier stopped working.

But the two sailors, accompanied by their dogs, were resourceful and prepared with more than a year’s worth of food, and after more than five months of being lost in the vast Pacific Ocean, sending out daily distress calls that no one heard, they were rescued by the U.S. Navy on Wednesday about 900 miles southeast of Japan. Their intended destination: Tahiti — thousands of miles off course.

The USS Ashland rescued the women after a Taiwanese fishing vessel spotted their crippled vessel Tuesday and alerted the U.S. Coast Guard, the Navy said in a statement released Thursday.

The women, identified by the Navy as Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava, both of Honolulu, lost their engine in bad weather in late May but believed they could still reach Tahiti using their sails.

“They saved our lives,” said Appel through the Navy release. “The pride and smiles we had when we saw (U.S. Navy) on the horizon was pure relief.”

In a phone call with news media from the Ashland, Appel said they had sent a distress signal for 98 days with no response.

“It was very depressing and very hopeless, but it’s the only thing you can do, so you do what you can do,” she said, according to an audio recording of the call.

A group of sharks attacked their boat one night, and a single shark returned a day later, she said.

“Both of them, we actually thought it was lights out, and they were horrific,” Appel said. “We were just incredibly lucky that our hull was strong enough to withstand the onslaught.”

Asked if they ever thought they might not survive, she said they would not be human if they did not. She credited the two dogs, which she called their companion animals, with keeping their spirits up.

“There is a true humility to wondering if today is your last day, if tonight is your last night,” she said.

Appel’s mother told The Associated Press Thursday that she never gave up hope that her daughter would be found.

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