A sailing trip from Hawaii to Tahiti turned into an aimless five months at sea for two mariners and their dogs.
According to the U.S. Navy, who rescued the foursome, Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiaba of Honolulu, Hawaii, left Oahu in a 50-foot sailboat called the “Sea Nymph” this spring for Tahiti. This trip, not unusual for experienced sailors, usually takes a month or so. Several weeks in, on May 30, Appel and Fuiaba’s engine died during a storm.
The duo believed they could still safely sail to their destination with their dogs, Zeus and Valentine, without running out of provisions, so they continued on. Two months later, they were still lost at sea, so they decided to start issuing distress calls. For three months, they went unanswered.
As the time adrift began to press forward with no end in sight, the group started to lose hope, fearing that they would be eaten by sharks that frequently circled the boat,
“I went downstairs with the boys and we basically laid huddled on the floor and I told them not to bark, because the sharks could hear us breathing. They could smell us,” Appel told NBC News.
Then finally, the seafaring dogs and their owners were spotted 900 miles southeast of Japan by a Taiwanese fishing vessel. After a failed rescue attempt, the fishing vessel contacted the Coast Guard in Guam, which reached out to coordination centers in Taipei, Japan and Hawaii to figure out the fastest rescue option.
Sasebo-based amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) was tapped as the craft that could rescue the group the fastest. The USS Ashland arrived at the drifting sailboat on the morning of Oct. 25 and safely brought all four of the sailboat’s passengers — some on two feet, others on four paws — on board. The dogs, each in their own lifejacket, reacted to the rescue by running in circles and barking excitedly.
“When I saw the gray boat on the edge of the horizon, my heart leapt because I knew that we were about to be saved, because I honestly believed we were going to die within the next 24 hours,” Appel added.
The two women said they kept themselves and their dogs alive thanks to a water purifier, a year’s worth of dry food goods and the comfort the canines provided.