How Two Women—and Two Dogs—Survived Five Harrowing Months Lost at Sea

It's the feel-good survival story we need.

How Two Women—and Two Dogs—Survived Five Harrowing Months Lost at Sea

It's the feel-good survival story we need.

Last May, Honolulu residents Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava set off on a 50-foot sailboat from Hawaii to Tahiti with their dogs, Zeus and Valentine. The epic adventure, however, took a perilous turn a month in, when their engine failed due to flooding from a storm. Lost in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, they began making distress calls and sending up flare signals, but they were too far away from other ships or shore for anyone to see or hear. They began floating aimlessly through the vast ocean, surrounded by nothing but water and endless horizon, not knowing where they were, or whether they’d ever reach land.

Twice, they were attacked by sharks, who pounded menacingly at their boat. On one occasion, a group of 30 foot-long tiger sharks decided to use the vessel as a target to practice hunting. In another instance, their water purifier broke, and they were down to their last gallon of water before Appel managed to fix it.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay/Released

Finally, on Tuesday, they were spotted by a Taiwanese fishing boat, and, at long last, rescued. They were 900 miles south of Japan, and thousands of miles away from their intended destination, Tahiti. By then, they had been lost at sea for nearly 5 months.

The fishing crew contacted the U.S. Coast Guard at Guam, and both of the women, as well as their dogs, boarded the USS Ashland, a 610-foot-long amphibious docking landing ship, on Wednesday.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay/Released

“The pride and smiles we had when we saw [the ship] on the horizon was pure relief,” Appel told USA Today.

Speaking to reporters in a teleconference arranged aboard the Navy ship, the women looked healthy and fit, as though they’d just run a grueling marathon, rather than survive months of almost certain death. The dogs seemed to be healthy and in excellent spirits as well.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay/Released

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay/Released

So, how did they survive? Appel credited good preparation; they had had enough pasta, rice, and oatmeal, to last them a year. Still, there were times when they thought they wouldn’t make it.

“There is a true humility to wondering if today is your last day, if tonight is your last night,” Appel told The Chicago Tribune.

For those moments of utter hopelessness, it was the dogs that got them through.

To some extent, in fact, their incredible story is a testament to the power of positive thinking. Faced with the worst possible circumstances, the friends decided to make the most of it, learning as much they could about the ocean and taking in its beauty, knowing that each sunset could be their last.

“[The experience] was incredibly depressing,” Appel said. “And it was very hopeless, but it’s the only thing you can do, so you do what you can with what you have. You have no other choice.”

“You may as well use the time you have to do something beneficial,” Fuiava said.

In spite of their harrowing ordeal, the two sailors say they have every intention of patching up their boat, which was left adrift after the Navy deemed it “unseaworthy,” and using it to get back to Honolulu. After all, you only live once.

“Well, you got to die sometime,” Appel said. “You may as well be doing something you enjoy when you’re doing it, right?”

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