When Jennifer Appel abandoned her SV Sea Nymph, a 50-foot sailboat in the North Pacific on October 25, 2017, she was urged to do so because US Navy rescuers could not restart her sailboat’s engine. On January 25, 2012, at 2:00 PM, Ms. Appel lost her 34-foot sailboat when the outboard engine failed, and the boat hit the rocks just outside of Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, according to Clifford Inn of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Photo of the wreck of Jennifer Appel’s SV FSOW on January 25, 2012, taken by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Ms. Appel became an instant international celebrity when she and her crew member, Tasha Fuiava, and their two dogs, Zeus and Valentine, were rescued by the USS Ashland (LSD 48) an amphibious US Navy ship doing maneuvers near Japan. They were rescued thousands of miles off course despite having sails in good condition, a mast upright, and a working GPS unit.
The women reported setting off 10 flares, waving a white flag, and making distress calls for 98 days despite telling the USCG in a survivor debrief that they had a working EPIRB. An EPIRB, if activated, can notify rescuers immediately of a survivor’s location. Ms. Appel has said that their boat was not going to sink within 24 hours until after they were towed by a Taiwanese, fishing vessel 900 miles off Japan. Ms. Appel made a distress call by satellite phone on the fishing vessel. She said they departed for Tahiti from Honolulu on May 3, 2017. When Ms. Appel was rescued, her boat was thousands of miles west of her home port when Tahiti lies 2,600 miles to the south, southeast of Honolulu, Hawaii.
“Ashland crew members inspected the sailboat’s engine and determined it could not be fixed without parts. This information was provided to a Coast Guard official via telephone, who then recommended taking the mariners on board. The Commanding Officer of the ship concurred, and the mariners were brought to Ashland,” wrote Lt. Commander Adam Cole, Public Information Officer of the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet, Amphibious Force. Ms. Appel told reporters that the engine’s starter was flooded on May 25, 2017, by a “white squall” that filled the of the sailboat with water.
Ms. Appel lost another sailboat in 2012 to engine problems when it broke up on the rocks near the marina where she had a berth in Honolulu. Michael Parker of Parker Marine, which also is part of Tow Boat US’s Vessel Assist, said his company does most of the small boat salvage in the state of Hawaii. He said 80 percent of boats are salvaged by his company, and, typically, he salvages about 60 wrecks per year. Ms. Appel’s SV FSOW was one he was called out to salvage in February 2012. He said Ms. Appel attributed the wreck to the failure of the outboard motor pushing the 10,500-pound, Coranado 34, according to sailboatdata.com.
When asked to comment on the loss of the sailboat in 2012, Ms. Appel said, “I wasn’t at the helm when that happened.” Additional e-mail enquiries about the wreck were not responded to.
Mr. Parker said that Ms. Appel’s insurance company denied the salvage claim for “an unusual reason,” which he would not specify further. He thought the 34-foot sailboat was “under powered.” While he was not paid in full for his salvage work, Mr. Parker said that he was on good terms with her after she settled the bill for pennies on the dollar three years after the wreck. “She did not have to,” he said. According to Mr. Parker, the statute of limitations had lapsed on any claim that he could bring to court when Ms. Appel offered pay part of her bill. He towed the SV Sea Nymph when its engine was not working prior to her departure for Tahiti.
Ms. Appel told the author that she bought her second boat the SV Sea Nymph in January 2015 during her interview in episode 42 of the Slow Boat Sailing Podcast. According to Ms. Parker, she settled her salvage bill with Mr. Parker around the same time.
Slow Boat Sailing corresponded with Roman Kalinowski by Facebook Messenger. Roman is a DJ in Honolulu who used to have a relationship with Ms. Appel, but has not spoken to her since 2014, but he knew her when the wreck of the FSOW occurred in January 2012.
“I wasn’t aboard. She decided to test out a new outboard engine in 10’+ south shore swells. Engine failed and she was on the rocks in a wave or two. Then she was basically homeless and living on ppls couches,” he wrote.
Mr. Kalinowski wrote that he had sailed with her, “She could tack and jibe, wasn’t very good a trimming sails tho…She’s really overconfident in her abilities and should stick to lake sailing.”
When he stopped seeing her in 2014 he wrote, “She was living in a tent on her farm, I got tired of driving up there. Also tired of supporting her farm.”
Matt Rutherford, a sailor who was the first person to sail unsupported around the Americas through the Northwest Passage and around Cape Horn, single-handed, said, “Obviously, that is a crazy story involving those ladies,” referring to the voyage of Ms. Appel and Ms. Fuiava. He went on, “There are too many inconsistencies.” When asked about the media attention that his world-record voyage in an Albin Vega 27 sailboat got, he said he was written about in some sailing magazines and interviewed on the Weather Channel. He was never interviewed by a national newspaper such as the New York Times. In addition to the New York Times, Ms. Appel and Ms. Fuiava have been guests or featured on the NBC’s Today Show, CBS This Morning, and Good Morning America on ABC.
Lt. Commander Cole said that it was not the U.S. Navy’s job to confirm any part of their story when asked if Navy sailors checked the passports of Ms. Appel or Ms. Fuiava to see if they stopped anywhere between May 3, and their rescue on October 25, 2017. The rescued sailors said they had been adrift at sea for over 5-months, that they saw sharks as big as 50-feet long, and that survived as 3-day and two-night storm in Hawaii that NOAA has no record of. “I do not have details of whether the passports were looked at or not or what the contents of the passports were. The U.S. Navy’s role was to respond to a vessel in distress and the crew of USS Ashland executed that mission safely and professionally,” Mr. Cole wrote.
Mr. Cole said that no other inspection of the sailboat was made by Navy personnel other than the inspection of the engine. Thus, Ms. Appel and Ms. Fuiava are the only sources confirming that the sailboat’s spreader was damaged from May 2017 until October 25, 2017. Navy footage shows Ms. Appel climbing the mast when the US Navy rescuers were on board. Ms. Appel said the damage to the sailboat rig limited their speed to four-to-five miles per hour.
The US Coast Guard Honolulu told the Associated Press that they had hailed the SV Sea Nymph near Tahiti. Ms. Appel, told The Today Show, “We never got near Tahiti (our GPS track proves that)”.
If NBC news inspected their GPS track, they have never disclosed that. Alan Block writing on a deleted Sailing Anarchy forum under the moniker of Mr. Clean said he could not find any data on the hand held GPS track. Ms. Appel told the author on the Slow Boat Sailing Podcast’s bonus episode to 42 that her handheld was a Garmin GPSMAP 76cx with a micro SD card. She said on the podcast interview that she had never actually looked at the tracks on the unit, but said its storage capacity was small.
After Mr. Block took home the GPS unit, he could not find any tracks GPS. He wrote on the deleted sailing anarchy thread after he visited Ms. Appel on November 29, 2017:
“GPS doesn’t interface with a mac.”
“SD card appears to be empty, tracks must be on the unit which needs a charge. Any ideas?”
“If could see the data I wouldn’t have posted here.”
“Took the GPS home with me, and will bring it over to a friends when I get home. Lot of work ahead to finish this story.”
When the USCG was pressed if they would verify their story with GPS, satellite phone records, credit card statements, or inspecting the passports of the survivors, Petty Officer 2nd Class, Tara A. Molle, Public Affair Specialist for the USCG in Honolulu said, “We are not conducting an investigation into this incident. Our command center conducted a post rescue survivor debrief as part of standard protocol for any type of rescue. The two women did report distress situations while at sea and contacted the Coast Guard for assistance. We were able to locate a Navy ship (USS Ashland) as one of the closest available assets to conduct the rescue of Ms. Appel and Ms. Fuiava and are happy to know that they (and their two dogs) are safely back ashore.”
(c) Linus Wilson, 2017, Oxriver Publishing
Dr. Linus Wilson, Captain, OUPV-Near Coastal, is the author of How to Sail Around the World Part-Time and the creator of the Slow Boat Sailing Podcast and YouTube Channel. He sails an Island Packet 31, which is currently in Tahiti.