Exclusive: The Last Voyage of the SV Sea Nymph as Reported to the USCG

by Linus Wilson


Position reports tell the story that the doomed SV Sea Nymph made good less than one nautical mile per hour for a period of 97 days downwind between June 26, 2017, and October 1, 2017. This contradicts the assertion by Jennifer Appel to reporters that her boat could sail four-to-five miles per hour. Ms. Appel submitted these position reports to the US Coast Guard (USCG) on October 27, 2017, in a satellite phone call obtained by Slow Boat Sailing through a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA). There are approximately 2,200 nautical miles between position 18 and 19 on the figure above. According to Ms. Appel, it took her 45-foot sailboat with an upright mast and working rudder 97 days to go that distance. The 31-foot Slow Boat for example covered 3,500 nautical miles in just 27 days. You can see that trip here.

Slow Boat Sailing has exclusively obtained the strange track of the SV Sea Nymph before its crew of two women and two dogs were rescued 900 miles southeast of Japan by the US Navy on October 25, 2017. These are positions which were reported to the US Coast Guard by the owner of the SV Sea Nymph, a 45-foot Starrett and Jenks sailboat. The audio of the survivor debrief of Jennifer Appel with the US Coast Guard was obtained by the author through a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA). Ms. Appel spoke to interviewers from the USCG’s 14th district in Honolulu on board the USS Ashland, a US Navy ship on October 27, 2017.

Ms. Appel said that she hoped to have a 3-week passage to Tahiti from her home port of Honolulu, with her crew member Tasha Fuiava, who had never sailed before. Then, she said that SV Sea Nymph moved generally due south between 155 and 157 west longitude from May 5, 2017, to May 26, 2017. The only major deviation from this course as reported by Ms. Appel was the circling of Christmas Island, Kiribati. Ms. Appel told Slow Boat Sailing that she lacked charts for Christmas Island, Kiribati, the Northern Cooks, and Wake Island that would have let her see the depths in those anchorages. Thus, her only source of harbor information was unreliable VHF calls. Christmas Island and Penrhyn (in the northern Cooks) both had sufficient channel and anchorage depths for the SV Sea Nymph, according to charts, which were examined by Slow Boat Sailing.

On May 26, 2017, Ms. Appel decided it would be too hard to enter any of the atolls in the northern Cook Islands. She said that she lacked charts for those islands, and, by that time, the boat’s motor would no longer start. The Sea Nymph turned around a little over 100 miles north of the port of entry Penrhyn atoll in the Cook Islands. She said after that the sailboat was then bound for Honolulu. Until June 26, 2017, her boat headed due north between 156 and 159 west longitude until they were withing 750 miles south of Honolulu, Hawaii.  For reasons that are not clear, Ms. Appel steered the boat west until it passed by Wake Island on October 2, 2017, local time. Ms. Appel has said little about their path over those 97 days. During that period, she told USCG officers that she set off flares and made VHF distress calls, but did not activate her EPIRB.

The accuracy of this map depends on the veracity of Ms. Appel’s position reports to the USCG. Slow Boat Sailing has only been able to verify points 2, 14, 19, and 20 with independent sources besides Ms. Appel. At point 2, the USCG said it responded to her Mayday call with an aircraft, but it left the scene when she said her vessel was OK.

There is a one-day discrepancy between when the Marine Guard station on Christmas Island, Kiribati, position 14, said they spoke to the Sea Nymph and when Jennifer Appel says they spoke. Jennifer Appel says she spoke to the “calling station” on May 17, 2017. The Christmas Island Marine Guard said they spoke on May 18, 2017, and continued to hail the Sea Nymph with no response on May 19, 2017, because she gave them incomplete information on the May 18, 2017, conversation. The officials in Kiribati told Slow Boat Sailing that they even had records of the Sea Nymph’s call sign.

On October 1, 2017, (Honolulu time) or October 2, 2017, local Wake Island time, the US Air Force confirmed to Slow Boat Sailing that the Sea Nymph by VHF requested a tow at Wake Island (point 19), but could not be located. At point 20, the USS Ashland rescued the Sea Nymph crew 900 miles southeast of Japan.

Ms. Appel has made several statements that have proved untrue. Ms. Appel has said in the past that she faced a force 11 storm leaving Honolulu, but weather data found no such winds or storm activity in that area. She said that she saw sharks bigger than were ever recorded in an area she called the “Devils Triangle”, which is a geographic region that does not exist. She claimed her boat was 50-feet long to journalists, but has since conceded on the Slow Boat Sailing Podcast episode 42 that it was a 45-foot long boat.  Some parts of the journey are in dispute. The USCG told the Associated Press that it hailed the Sea Nymph on June 15, 2017, which responded that it would be arriving in Tahiti the next day. In contrast, Ms. Appel told the USCG that point 14 on the figure (6S and 157W) was the closest her boat got to its planned destination of Tahiti. The USCG Honolulu has told Slow Boat Sailing that it has no plans to investigate the circumstances of the SV Sea Nymph rescue.

The closest path between the 20 numbered points in the figure is about 6,000 nautical miles. The speed of the the Sea Nymph on the first two days was over 5 nautical miles per hour, and the trip to Christmas Island, Kiribati averaged just over 4 nautical miles per hour. From May 17, 2017, to June 10, 2017, the boat’s reported speed fell to about 2 nautical miles per hour. Between June 10, 2017, and the VHF radio contact with Wake Island on October 1, 2017, (Honolulu time), points 17, 18, and 19, the Sea Nymph averaged less than one nautical mile per hour as reported by Ms. Appel to the USCG. Since the longest leg of this trip, 2,200 nautical miles, from points 18 to 19 was downwind, the author finds that boat speed very slow and only consistent with a craft completely adrift. Nevertheless, Ms. Appel disputed that her boat was not adrift in her GoFundMe appeal from November 25, 2017, “We were not ‘adrift’. ‘Adrift’ denotes that we had no ability to steer, which fails to account for our ability to circle Christmas Island, leave the Dragon’s Triangle, almost return to Hawaii or navigate over 2000 miles from our failed attempt to return to Hawaii to reach 7.4km Wake Island.”

To the author, these slow reported speeds of less than one knot raise the possibility that the Sea Nymph stopped somewhere between May 18, 2017, and October 1, 2017, (Honolulu time). Those were two points that Slow Boat Sailing has confirmed where the Sea Nymph hailed Christmas Island and USAF respectively. The maximum hull speed of the Sea Nymph based on the 32.5-foot waterline length reported in sailboatdata.com for the Starrett and Jenks 45 is 7.6 knots. That indicates that the Sea Nymph could reach Wake Island from Tahiti, about 2,400 nautical miles, in less than two weeks. Thus, if the reports of the USCG hailing the Sea Nymph near Tahiti on June 15, 2017, are true, then the crew would have had plenty of time to anchor and go ashore several different ports prior to reaching Wake Island on October 2, 2017, local time.

The Sea Nymph‘s reported speed picked up to 1.2 knots between the confirmed locations of Wake Island and the crew’s eventual rescue 900 mile southeast of Japan.

In the survivor debrief, the USCG expressed surprise and dismay that Ms. Appel did not pull her EPIRB when she started setting off flares and hailing passing ships for a tow, beginning on June 26, 2017. Ms. Appel told the USCG that she was not truly in danger until after they obtained the tow from the Taiwanese fishing vessel on October 24, 2017. On that date, Ms. Appel swam out to the fishing vessel and called for a rescue by way of the fishing vessel’s satellite phone.  The Taiwanese government has disputed Ms. Appel’s allegations that the fishing vessel posed a danger to the women.

Do not copy or reproduce the figure without obtaining the express, written consent of Linus Wilson. To contact the author send an e-mail to linuswilson [at] yahoo <dot> com . Dr. Linus Wilson holds a six-pack captain’s license. He has sailed 10,000 nautical miles in his Island Packet 31 sailboat. In it he has visited the Bahamas and Cuba, transited the Panama Canal and crossed the Pacific to Tahiti. He has written three books including How to Sail Around the World Part-Time.

Check out our videos about this strange voyage below:


No charts, dinghy, & autopilot before sailing offshore? SV Sea Nymph & Jennifer Appel

The Hawaii sailors say they had trouble making port because they lacked large-scale charts. The skipper, Jennifer Appel, failed to buy them before she left Honolulu on May 3. Without “island” or large-scale charts, of the Christmas Island, Kiribati, the northern Cooks, or Wake Island, Appel said she had to make VHF calls to see if the anchorages were safe. A responsible skipper would have bought charts (paper or electronic) for the islands on the way.

Nothing about the mysterious case of the SV Sea Nymph is clear cut, because the skipper Jennifer Appel has been caught in so many lies about sharks sizes, a force 11 storm , and even the size of her boat (50-feet versus 45-feet long)!

The dinghy pictured in thumbnail a 2017 picture by Michael Krijnen was no where to be found when Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava were rescued by a Taiwanese fishing vessel and the US Navy’ ship the USS Ashland LSD48.

Mariners Rescued by USS Ashland (LSD 48)
Navy Media Content Services
Public Domain

Interviews with mariners Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava, and Cmdr. Steve Wasson, USS Ashland commanding officer.

USS Ashland Rescue
Video by Lance Cpl. Jonathan Pearson
American Forces Network Okinawa
Public Domain


Ms. Appel told Sailing Anarchy that she had to hand steer and lost sleep because rookie sailor Tasha never got the hang of steering weeks into the voyage. There is little evidence that the boat had an autopilot or windvane. Very few sailboats leave for a three-week offshore passage for Tahiti without a self-steering device.

The SV Sea Nymph owned by Jennifer Appel had underwent a major refit before leaving Honolulu. Did the rigging problems occur on the voyage, in Honolulu, or were their rigging problems at all?

All this adds up to a skipper who had not prepared her boat for a major offshore passage. Appel says they were at sea for over 5-months before being rescued by the US Navy on October 25, 2017, over a thousand miles off course. Appel and Fuiava said they departed Honolulu bound for Tahiti.

Interviews with rescued mariners aboard USS Ashland
By Navy Media Content Services, 10/27/17, Public Domain
Interviews with mariners Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava, and Cmdr. Steve Wasson, USS Ashland commanding officer.

Pictures from Michael Krijnen of Jennifer Appel on a motor scooter and in a dinghy are used with his permission.
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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.


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.