US Air Force Confirms Part of Hawaii Sailor’s Story about Hailing Wake Island by Linus Wilson

Very little of the timeline and itinerary given by Hawaii sailors Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava prior to October 24, 2017, on the 45-foot, SV Sea Nymph sailboat has been confirmed at this point.  The US Air Force base at Wake Island in the North Pacific confirms to the author and Slow Boat Sailing that US Air Force personnel did have radio contact with the SV Sea Nymph on October 2, 2017. The North Pacific atoll is approximately 1,000 nautical miles east from where the women and their two dogs were rescued by a Taiwanese fishing vessel. That means the SV Sea Nymph averaged about 2 nautical miles per hour over the roughly three weeks until they accepted a tow from Taiwanese fishing vessel.

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Public domain photo by Anthony J. Rivera, Navy Media Content Services, on October 26, 2017: Four F/A-18C Hornets fly in formation over Wake Island and the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt during a U.S. Navy Heritage event for the crew.

Ms. Appel and Ms. Fuiava said they set sail for Tahiti from Honolulu on May 3, 2017, and never touched land until after they were taken off Ms. Appel’s sailboat on October 25, 2017, by the US Navy’s USS Ashland approximately 900 miles east south east of Japan. Their account has been questioned after they described a “three day” force 11 storm at the start of their trip that could not be found in weather records. Further, they described sharks bigger than have ever been before measured. The Associated Press reported that a US Coast Guard’s VHF call put them just outside Tahiti on June 15, 2017,  when they claimed to be over 1,000 miles to the northwest of Tahiti at that time.

In e-mail communication with the author, Ms. Appel said she was next to Wake Island on October 1. Wake Island has a US Air Force base and a landing strip sometimes accommodating commercial flights. The US Air Force in an e-mail exchange with Slow Boat Sailing said the fire department personnel received her call on October 2, 2017, at 6:35 A.M. local time.  “She relayed her antenna was broken and a partial coordinate. She was seeking to harbor in the Wake Island Marina, which was approved. Communication was in and out,” wrote Mr. Tommie W. Baker, Chief of Community Relations for the Eleventh Air Force.

Ms. Appel has wrote the following on her Facebook page on a November 12, 2017, post, which she said was sent to media outlets on November 1:

“Please keep in mind that Wake Island could have towed us less than 3km into their turning basin and the fishing vessel/Navy rescue would never have happened. We would have replaced the broken rigging with the rigging replacements we had on board while in the safety of a harbor and gotten motor parts and a new antenna then would have continued on our journey with no press involved.

We were close enough to the reef at Peacock Point to have discussions with`Big Island` on Channel 16 at Wake Island and they responded that they were aware we needed assistance. That factoid is actually pretty impressive because we had navigated over 2000 miles to reach a 7.4km island in the literal `middle of nowhere` at roughly 19 degrees North and 166 degrees East.”

Mr. Baker of the US Air Force wrote that they did not tow the SV Sea Nymph because they were, “Unable to locate their craft.” Further, he wrote that the Air Force “was not aware of the vessel being adrift. Island personnel passed all information gathered to the USCG.”

The USCG in Honolulu’s Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara A. Molle declined to comment on their communications with the US Air Force at Wake Island, saying “this case is now closed”.

The author has examined the chart and the channel on the west side of the island, which was little under 100 feet wide. Thus, it is the author’s opinion that sailing a 45-foot cruising boat into that channel would be very risky and difficult for a crew of two under ideal circumstances. Ms. Appel asserted that the engine did not work since late May 2017. Slow Boat Sailing found that the US Navy was also unable to start the sailboat’s engine when the two women and two dogs were rescued on October 25, 2017. Nevertheless, the shelf outside the channel could be used to anchor in while the crew waited for assistance or took their tender to shore to get help.

The one-day discrepancy in the date of the US Air Force could be due to Ms. Appel not adding an additional day to her log entries when she passed the international dateline at 180 east longitude. Wake Island is at approximately 166.6 east longitude. Alternatively, they could have sailed near the island for multiple days.

 

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