Mariners rescued after months lost at sea 'did not believe that we would survive another 24 hours'

PHOTO: Jennifer Appel and Natasha "Tasha" Fuiava talk to members of the U.S. Navy after they were rescued after being lost at sea for five months, Oct. 26, 2017. PlayU.S. Navy
WATCH 2 mariners rescued after being adrift in the Pacific for 5 months

Two civilian mariners rescued at sea by a U.S. Navy ship after being stranded in the Pacific Ocean for almost five months didn't think they "would survive another 24 hours."

Jennifer Appel, an experienced sailor, and Natasha “Tasha” Fuiava, a sailing novice, left Honolulu on their sailboat on May 3 with their two dogs, Valentine and Zeus, bound for Tahiti, 2,600 miles away in the South Pacific.

During a spell of bad weather on May 30, their sailboat's engine stopped running for good. Two months into their voyage, they began issuing daily distress radio calls. But there were no ships close enough to receive the messages.

On Oct. 24, the women were finally spotted by a Taiwanese fishing boat 900 miles from Japan -- 5,000 miles from where they'd intended to sail. But despite the crew's best efforts to secure the sailboat, they actually damaged it further. A bad towing job led to what the women called the scariest 24 hours of the voyage; apparently, it damaged the boat enough that they were concerned whether it could stay afloat.

"That 24 hours of being towed," Fuiava said in an interview provided by the U.S. Navy, "that was the scariest moment of the entire trip."

Appel told the Taiwanese boat to use their radio, which is how they were able to get a U.S. Navy ship to find them and pick them up. The women were rescued on Oct. 25 by the USS Ashland.

Appel said in the interview provided by the U.S. Navy that their rescue was the "most amazing feeling because we honestly did not believe that we would survive another 24 hours in the current situation."

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.

"We had no idea what to expect," Appel said, "But when we saw that big gray ship coming, it was just relief."

"Eternally grateful," added Fuiava.

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. Mass 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.
PHOTO: Sailors assigned to the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) maneuver the landing craft personnel (large) to render assistance to distressed mariners, Oct. 25, 2017. Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay/Navy
Sailors assigned to the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) maneuver the landing craft personnel (large) to render assistance to distressed mariners, Oct. 25, 2017.

The women said via conference call that they endured shark attacks before being rescued.

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, they said.

Appel speculated that the adult sharks were teaching the young sharks how to attack.

The next night, one "sore loser" tiger shark came back and slapped the boat again, they said. Fuiava likened it to experiencing an earthquake in the middle of nowhere unable to get help "and you're shark bait."

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, they said.

Appel has sailed the Hawaiian Islands for the last 10 years and Fuiava was a security guard at the pier where Appel’s boat was located. They became friends, and when it came time for Appel to leave, she asked Fuiava if she wanted to come along, and Fuiava decided quickly that she was up for the adventure.

According to The Associated Press, the women said they survived because they had a water purifier and enough food for one year.

The AP said Appel and Fuiava will remain on the Navy ship until the next port of call. The dogs are also aboard the USS Ashland. 

According to the AP, the women said they hope a ship rescues their sailboat, which was left adrift. The AP said the women want to repair the boat and sail it back to Hawaii.