WHITE BEACH NAVAL FACILITY, Japan - Two women from Hawaii who were adrift on a storm-battered sailboat in the Pacific for months set foot on solid ground Monday at a U.S. Naval base in southern Japan.
The USS Ashland rescued Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava and their two dogs about 1,450 kilometers (900 miles) southeast of Japan, and brought them to America's White Beach Naval Facility after waiting for a typhoon to pass.
The two women, sporting USS Ashland knit shirts, were standing with the commanding officer and others high on the bridgeway as the ship docked. They later spoke to reporters on the flight deck before clearing customs and walking down metal stairs to the dock.
They had left Honolulu on May 3 aboard Appel's 15-meter (50-foot) vessel, the Sea Nymph, for what was supposed to be an 18-day trip to Tahiti. Storms flooded the engine, destroying the starter, and damaged the mast so badly that they couldn't generate enough wind power to stay on course, they said.
The two women tried to return and at one point in June were within 1,345 kilometers (726 nautical miles) of Oahu but couldn't make it, Appel said.
"We knew we weren't going to make it," she said. "So that's when we started making distress calls. We were hoping that one of our friends who likes to go deep sea fishing and taking people out might have gone past the 400-mile mark and might have cruised near where we would be."
The women said they drifted aimlessly and sent unanswered distress calls for 98 consecutive days.
They were thousands of miles in the wrong direction when a Taiwanese fishing vessel found them. Towing the sailboat damaged it further, but Appel said she paddled over to the Taiwanese vessel on a surfboard and made a mayday call. The Ashland, which happened to be in the area to avoid a storm, traveled (160 kilometers) 100 miles and found them the next day, said the ship's commanding officer, Cmdr. Steven Wasson.
The women said they ran out of food for the dogs and began sharing their own, leaving their food supply 90 percent depleted by the time they were rescued.
On Wednesday, the USS Ashland picked up the women and the dogs, Zeus and Valentine, all four looking remarkably fit for having been lost at sea for nearly six months.
Appel told reporters on Friday that they were beginning to believe they were completely out of luck when they saw the U.S. Navy ship chugging toward them.
"When I saw the gray ship on the horizon, I was just shaking," she said then. "I was ready to cry, I was so happy. I knew we were going to live."
The Navy sent a six-person crew on a small boat over to the sailboat. Wasson said they determined "there were just too many things that needed to be solidified to make that vessel seaworthy again ... so that's why we brought them on board."
His ship, which transports and deploys amphibious landing craft, wasn't equipped to bring the sailboat back, so it was abandoned at sea. The two women still hope it will be found and they can repair it. If not, Appel said they want to build an "unsinkable and unbreakable boat" and set out for Tahiti again.
"We still never got to see the 20,000 islands, so I think that would be the most fantastic trip for May of next spring," she said.
Although Appel has been sailing the Hawaiian islands for 10 years and spent two years preparing for this voyage, she acknowledged that she and Fuiava, a novice sailor, may not have prepared as well as they could have.
Appel earlier credited their survival in part to the veteran sailors in Hawaii who had warned them to prepare well for their journey.
"They said pack every square inch of your boat with food, and if you think you need a month, pack six months, because you have no idea what could possibly happen out there," she said. "And the sailors in Honolulu really gave us good advice. We're here."