Honolulu: The planned voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti aboard a 50-foot sailboat didn't start off well for two Honolulu women. One of their cellphones was washed overboard and sank to the bottom on their first day at sea.
From there, things got worse. Much worse.
About a month into their sea trip, flooding from a storm crippled their engine. The 57-foot mast was damaged. And then, as they drifted thousands of miles in what turned out to be a five-month ordeal out in the middle of Pacific, the water purifier conked out and sharks started bumping the boat menacingly.
Every day for 98 days straight, the women sent out distress calls to no avail.
But the two sailors, accompanied by their dogs, were resourceful and well-prepared with more than a year's worth of food, and on Wednesday they were finally rescued by the US navy about 900 miles off Japan and thousands of miles from their destination.
"Thank God, we've been rescued," Jennifer Appel, 48, told reporters in a teleconference arranged aboard a Navy ship. "I had tears in my eyes. It was incredibly emotional."
The USS Ashland picked up Appel and Tasha Fuiava after a Taiwanese fishing vessel spotted their crippled vessel Tuesday and alerted the Coast Guard.
'Women looked fit'
In photos and video provided by the navy, one of the women blew kisses as a rescue boat approached. Both women, and their dogs, Valentine and Zeus, looked fit and vigorous. Fuiava flashed a smile as she climbed a ladder onto the Ashland.
Asked if they ever thought they might not survive, Appel said they would not be human if they did not. She credited the two dogs with keeping their spirits up.
"There is a true humility to wondering if today is your last day, if tonight is your last night," Appel said.
The women lost their engine in bad weather in late May but believed they could still reach Tahiti by sail. But the damage to their mast made it difficult to make any progress. Twice, sharks menaced them.
"They were horrific," Appel said.
A group of five tiger sharks 20 to 30-feet decided to use the sailboat to teach two younger sharks how to hunt, attacking the vessel at night. The next morning, one 20-footer that Appel called 'a really poor loser' returned and attacked the side of the boat.