Rescue of a Sea Nymph: Jennifer Appel, Tasha Fuiava and the Sea Nymph Story | women who survived

Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava have an extraordinary story to tell. But is it just a story?

Some sailing experts have questioned their story of being adrift at sea following a ferocious storm and shark attacks, but the women insist they were adrift in the Pacific for five months.

Their adventure began in May 2017 when Appel and Fuiava left Honolulu on the Sea Nymph with their two dogs.

The women say they were well prepared and their boat was well stocked. But what was supposed to be a fun sailing expedition quickly turned into a near disaster.

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Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava pictured after their rescue in 2017. (AP)

On their very first night, they claimed they were hit by force 11 storms off the coast of Hawaii, severely damaging the boat and causing it to drift out to sea.

To put it into perspective, this is the kind of storm that even cruise ship crews dread, prohibiting guests from going out in these conditions.

Appel claims she weathered the storm on the cockpit floor, trying to heel the boat into the waves she described as “so high and black they melted into the sky”. The storm destroyed the rigging and water flooded the boat’s engine.

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The women later admitted that they were not properly prepared and that Fuiava had never handled a boat before, which meant that Appel was facing the storm alone.

While the sea nymph was disabled, the women say they weren’t too worried because they had enough food and didn’t feel pressured to send a “Mayday” emergency.

“I thought we were going to end up somewhere, so why not give it a go?” Call said.

On calmer days, the women took turns covering the “night watch” while the other person got up early to watch the sunrise. They also had plenty of dried fruit and oatmeal to eat, as well as rice, noodles, hydrated soup, beef jerky, Gatorade, and iced tea.

Appel blows kisses as rescuers approach his crippled sailboat. (AP)

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There were days when women enjoyed simple pleasures, like watching dolphins swim by the boat.

But they also recounted scary moments when tiger sharks slammed into their boat. Appel also described using a rope to rig a self-steering system and days spent checking every screw on the boat, writing in his diary and reading sailing biographies.

Other issues plagued the boat, including further damage to the engine and mast, as well as malfunctioning of their radiotelephone and Iridium satellite phone.

This lack of communication prevented the women from receiving a typhoon warning, during which the boat suffered even more damage.

On October 1, Appel says the sea nymph approached Wake Island in the western Pacific Ocean. This seemed like the ray of hope the women needed, as they managed to get in touch with officials there.

“I thought we were going to end up somewhere, so why not give it a go?”

They were told their boat was on the wrong side of the island and they needed to get the boat to a position where they could be helped. However, a strong wind was pushing them in the wrong direction.

Five months after leaving Hawaii, the Sea Nymph was spotted by a Taiwanese fishing boat off the northern coast of Japan.

Appel used their rescuers’ satellite phone to contact the US Coast Guard for assistance. The sea nymph was left adrift after being deemed unseaworthy and the women were soon rescued by USS Ashland, along with their two dogs.

Mariner Jennifer Appel greets USS Ashland Command Master Chief Gary Wise.  (US Navy)
Appel meets his rescuers.

This is where the story gets pretty weird.

The women first claimed that their boat was being towed by the fishing boat. But later they changed their story to say that those on the fishing boat deliberately failed to maintain the proper towing distance between the boats and there was a collision with the much smaller Sea Nymph.

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“The Taiwanese fishing boat had no intention of rescuing us. They tried to kill us during the night,” Appel told the media.

As the women recovered from their five-month ordeal, inconsistencies in their stories began to leak out.

First, some people thought the women lied about the storm they encountered on their first night at sea.

Hawaii’s National Weather Service had issued a small craft advisory for the Alenuihāhā and Pailolo Channels that day, but said it had not recorded any “storm systems near the Hawaiian Islands on the dates of May 3. 2017 or the few days after.”

As for the story of tiger sharks attacking their boat, according to marine biologists, tiger sharks don’t behave that way.

Then data was released showing that just four weeks after the women left Hawaii, the Coast Guard contacted a vessel calling itself Sea Nymph in the vicinity of Tahiti.

Apparently the ship was not in distress and expected to make landfall the next day. But, according to the timeline provided by Appel and Fuiava, this interaction happened after the boat suffered damage to the engine, mast and rigging.

Appel appeared on a TV show, showing the reporter a GPS tracking unit, which showed the sea nymph to be “nowhere near Tahiti”.

As for the women’s accusation against the Taiwanese vessel, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office claimed that the fishing vessel never attempted to ram their vessel or kill them, as the women claimed.

The boat pictured after rescuers found the women. (AP)

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Experienced sailors found it hard to believe that six different communications devices had failed. But Appel and Fuiava admitted never having activated their distress beacon, which would have quickly alerted the rescuers. Appel claims they never felt they were in a “life or death situation”, which is why they did not use the electronic device.

The aftermath of the rescue was a frustrating time for the women, who were shocked by all the bad press they were getting.

Many thought they fabricated much of the story, such as a hostile Taiwanese fishing vessel, to spice up details for the media. (We may not be in the era of sword pirates, but there are always pirates, so this story isn’t too far-fetched.)

Experts in sailing, meteorology, Hawaiian seamanship and marine biology, as well as the Coast Guard and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office disputed many of the women’s claims.

Appel told the media, “It surprised me that the bad press started immediately, because it’s actually a feel-good story.”

It is clear that some aspects of this story cannot really be verified. But the fact remains that the women survived five months at sea in a badly damaged boat.

So, did everything the women claimed to have happened actually happen? Well, only the Sea Nymph can reveal these secrets.

During the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race, the boat was spotted east of Guam still floating and damaged, as the women had described.

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