Last Tuesday, Hawaii natives Jennifer Appel and Natasha Fuiava and their dogs Valentine and Zeus were rescued 900 miles south-east Japan by the United States Navy, five months after they set sail from Honolulu aboard a 50-foot sailboat bound for Tahiti. The women were some 5,000 miles from their intended destination when their battered boat was spotted by Taiwanese fisherman, who alerted the U.S. Coast Guard in Guam of their whereabouts. The USS Ashland was deployed on Wednesday to rescue them, and on Thursday, Appel, a seasoned mariner, and Fuiava, a novice, recounted their harrowing experience in a conference call with reporters.
The women claimed their journey got off to a rocky start when one of their cell phones fell overboard on the very first day. Soon after, they said they encountered an intense storm that produced near hurricane-force winds and 25-foot waves that left the boat flooded, but the National Weather Service in Honolulu said no organized storm systems were in or near Hawaii that day or in the days afterward. Archived NASA satellite images confirm no tropical storms were around the state. The Associated Press reported that Appel expressed surprise when she was informed of the discrepancy, maintaining that she received a Coast Guard storm warning on May 3.
The women said they considered turning back after the initial water and mast damage but believed the nearby islands of Maui and Lanai wouldn’t have been able to accommodate their sailboat. While the reported 50-foot size of their so-called “Sea Nymph” should not have had any trouble navigating the harbors of those islands, Appel claimed she had modified the boat by adding 6 tons of fiberglass to the hull.
“Given the constraints of our vessel, we chose the appropriate action,” she said.
Additionally, Appel and Fuiava had claimed all of their communication mechanisms were inoperable, but the Coast Guard has subsequently determined the boat was equipped with an emergency beacon that would have alerted officials to the location of their vessel immediately. While the beacon turns on automatically when submerged in water, it can also be activated manually. Appel now says she didn’t use the beacon because she believed it was only for boaters in imminent danger. Because of their abundant food and water supply, Appel didn’t think their condition qualified.
The women previously told The Associated Press that they had radios, satellite phones, GPS and other emergency gear, but they didn’t mention an emergency position indicating radio beacon. A Coast Guard review and subsequent interviews with Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava revealed that they had the device aboard their sailboat but never turned it on.
Appel said Tuesday that in her experience, the beacon should be used only when facing imminent physical danger and death in the next 24 hours.
“Our hull was solid, we were floating, we had food, we had water, and we had limited maneuverable capacity,” Appel said in Japan, where the U.S. Navy took them after their rescue last week. “All those things did not say we are going to die. All that said, it’s going to take us a whole lot longer to get where we’re going.”
In retrospect, Appel said there were two times she would have used it — near Hawaii in late June to early July and off Wake Island on Oct. 1.
“That’s a lesson learned for me, because that was the best chance we had in the ocean to get help,” she said.
The woman previously said that all six methods of communications they had on board failed, but Phillip R. Johnson, a retired Coast Guard officer who was once responsible for search and rescue operations, told the AP that, in his experience, such a scenario is highly unlikely.
So while there will no doubt be much more information to come as the Coast Guard continues to investigate, as of now, experts agree that something smells fishy.
“There’s something wrong there,” Johnson said.“I’ve never heard of all that stuff going out at the same time.”
(H/T: The Daily Wire)