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2 Women Lost at Sea for 5 Months Survived Shark Attacks and Storms

Two women mariners adrift in the Pacific Ocean for five months endured two days of shark attacks on their sailboat and major storms before being rescued by a U.S. Navy warship nearly 5,000 miles from their intended destination of Tahiti. Still aboard the USS Ashland, Jennifer Appel and Natasha “Tasha” Fuiava shared their harrowing experiences with reporters late Thursday night via conference call.

On May 3, Appel, an experienced sailor, and Fuiva, a sailing novice, set sail from Honolulu aboard the 50-foot “Sea Nymph” bound for Tahiti, 2,600 miles to the south. Also aboard were Appel’s two dogs, Valentine and Zeus. Early into their voyage they realized that a structural failure on their sailing mast would impact their voyage and limit their sailing speed to 4 to 5 knots.

Soon after that, they endured an intense storm with almost hurricane winds and 25-foot waves that buffeted their sailboat for two days. The storm left their engine flooded, but they still attempted to sail to Tahiti before they drifted westward in the Pacific. So began a five-month journey across the Pacific that was at times depressing, reflective and frightful.

Prepared for a difficult voyage the sailboat had been stocked with a year’s worth of food supplies they had seen recommended in a book. The sailboat also came equipped with water purifiers that got them through their ordeal.

PHOTO: Tasha Fuiaba, an American mariner who had been sailing for five months on a damaged sailboat, climbs the accommodation ladder to board the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48), Oct. 25, 2017.

Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay/Navy Tasha Fuiaba, an American mariner who had been sailing for five months on a damaged sailboat, climbs the accommodation ladder to board the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48), Oct. 25, 2017

But while well-fed and nourished, the experience was “very depressing and very helpless” said Appel who noted that “you do what you can and what you have, you have no other choice.” “You’re alive, you’re fed, you have water, the boys are happy and there’s love, and there are different sunrises and sunsets every day,” said Faiuva.

“And you’re around for a reason, so you may as well use the time you have to do something beneficial,” added Appel. But both said there were “absolutely” days when they despaired they would never be found. “There is a true humility to wondering if today is your last day? If tonight is your last night?” said Appel. In addition to enduring two more storms, “we had survived two different shark attacks and with both of them we thought it was lights out, and they were horrific,” said Appel.

One night a group of seven sharks, including five adults measuring 20 to 30 feet in length along with two young sharks, slapped their tails on the hull repeatedly.

PHOTO: USS Ashland (LSD 48) Command Master Chief Gary Wise welcomes aboard Jennifer Appel, an American mariner who had received assistance from Ashland crew members, Oct. 25, 2017.

Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay/Navy USS Ashland (LSD 48) Command Master Chief Gary Wise welcomes aboard Jennifer Appel, an American mariner who had received assistance from Ashland crew members, Oct. 25, 2017.

Appel speculated that the adult sharks were teaching the young sharks how to attack. The next morning five dolphins appeared alongside the ship “to say hello” and to determine, they believe, to see if they were alive. The dolphins soon swam away 200 yards from the boat where they were joined by 60 to 70 dolphins that appeared to “party by the boat.”

The next night one “sore loser” tiger shark came back and slapped the boat again. Fuiava likened it to experiencing an earthquake in the middle of nowhere unable to get help “and you’re sharkbait.” At times they would see commercial ships off in the distance, but they never responded to their distress signals or flares they fired into the sky.

Finally on Tuesday they were spotted by a Taiwanese fishing boat 900 miles from Japan — 5,000 miles from where they’d intended to sail in Japan.

But despite the crew’s best efforts to secure the sailboat, they actually damaged it further. Appel told the Taiwanese boat to use their radio, which is how they were eventually able to get a U.S. Navy ship to pick them up.

“Thank God we were being rescued,” Appel described her emotions when she saw American sailors coming toward the “Sea Nymph.” “I have tears in my eye as I say this. It was incredibly emotional and it was so satisfying to know that the men and women who serve their country would come and assist us. It was actually quite mind-blowing and quite humbling.”

Their sailboat is now adrift in the Pacific and they hope they can one day have it brought back to them. Aren’t they afraid of getting back into that sailboat again if found? “Well you got to die sometime, you might as well be doing something you enjoy when you’re doing it, right?” said Appel.

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