With a broken mast, a disabled engine and with distress calls out of range, two American women have been rescued after being at sea for five months, the U.S. Navy and family members said.
Jennifer Appel, 48, and her friend Tasha Fuiaba were found by the fishing vessel around 900 miles southeast of Japan, and a U.S. Navy ship based out of Sasebo, Japan, rescued them on Wednesday morning, the Navy said and Appel’s mother said.
“One prays every day, and your friends pray with you, and you hope that everything goes well,” Appel’s mother, Marie, said in a phone interview with NBC News on Thursday
“I thank God that she has made it there safely,” Marie Appel said.
Video released by the Navy showed one of the women blowing kisses to an approaching U.S. vessel as their two dogs, Zeus and Valentine, barked and scampered about.
They had water purifiers and a year’s worth of food aboard — mostly dry goods like oatmeal, pasta and rice — before setting out for Tahiti from Hawaii on May 3, the Navy and Marie Appel said, and they used those supplies to survive.
The fishing vessel contacted Coast Guard in Guam and the USS Ashland, an amphibious dock landing ship that was operating in the area, reached the sailboat late Wednesday morning, the Navy said.
Appel and Fuiaba were taken aboard the USS Ashland and will remain until the ship’s next port of call, the Navy said.
“They saved our lives. The pride and smiles we had when we saw [U.S. Navy] on the horizon was pure relief,” Appel said in a statement released by the Navy.
The sailboat the pair was on lost its engine during a storm on May 30, and they believed they could make it to Tahiti by sail, according to the Navy. But by two months after leaving Hawaii, they began making distress calls every day, but were out of range for any stations or ships, the Navy said.
Marie Appel said she was told that after her daughter, a landscape architect who has been sailing for about a year and a half, and her friend Fuiaba set sail from Oahu, a series of things went wrong.
Two hours in the trip her phone was washed overboard, Jennifer Appel contacted the Coast Guard to let them know and the Coast Guard estimated the pair should arrive in Tahiti by around June 5.
Then there were problems with the antenna, the motor starter failed, and new rigging on the mast broke, Marie Appel said.
The Navy said the engine became disabled during bad weather on May 30, but they continued on by sail. When they were found they were far off course, closer to Japan while Tahiti is south of Hawaii, around 2,600 miles away. They sailboat was found more than 5,000 miles away from Tahiti.
“At one point she was close to Wake Island but because of the winds she never made it there either. And so she’s just been drifting, drifting with the currents,” Marie Appel said.
Marie Appel said she doesn’t know when she will be reunited with her daughter, who is from Texas and has been living in Hawaii for around eight years.
“Jennifer’s a very strong-willed person, and very curious, and very creative, so consequently when things would break she would try to fix them,” Marie Appel said. “And so I was sure that if it was any possibility, she would pull it out, she would make it.”
When Jennifer Appel called her mother from the Navy ship, Marie Appel said “she was so enthusiastic and she really sounded healthy and in good spirits. That was fantastic.”
Appel said with a laugh that she would advise her daughter “I think four wheels on the solid ground is preferable to sailing,” but doesn’t think the experience will land lock Jennifer.
“She loved the water, she loved going to Galveston, she’s always enjoyed the water,” Marie Appel said. “So I doubt that she’ll stop, I doubt that she’ll stop sailing.”