Analysis: Hawaii Sailors’ GPS Track Does NOT Prove “we were no-where near Tahiti” as asserted by Jennifer Appel on the Today Show

by Linus Wilson

The GPS track that Jennifer Appel told the Today Show would prove they never were near Tahiti had less than 48 hours of tracks right before they were rescued by the US Navy.  Former Today Show host Matt Lauer questioned the skipper who said they were at sea for over five months before being rescued on October 25, 2017.  Mr. Lauer asked about their boat being hailed by the Coast Guard on June 15, 2017, within a day of Tahiti. Ms. Appel waved her GPSMAP Garmin 76cx in front of Mr. Lauer in the video below at about 2:58 and said, “I have no idea, but Garmin makes a great product. This is one of the GPS’s on the Sea–our Sea Nymph–and it shows we were no-where near Tahiti.”

She gave the Garmin GPSMAP unit to Alan Block after her in-person interview on his Sailing Anarchy Podcast. Slow Boat Sailing spoke to Mr. Block over the phone prior to his interview with Ms. Appel.  Slow Boat Sailing encouraged Mr. Block to look at her GPS tracks prior to his 8-hour interview with Mr. Appel and her crew member Tasha Fuiava in a Today Show-paid-for hotel in Long Island, New York. He posted a link to the GPX file on January 9, 2018, over a month after the interview, which Slow Boat Sailing has analyzed below.

GPSnew

Of course, the track does not go back to June 15, 2017, when the “Sea Nymph” responded to a VHF hail by a USCG plane near Tahiti. Thus, this is just another fib Ms. Appel has been caught in on national TV. Ms. Appel’s accounts of giant sharks and a force 11 storm among other things have been questioned in many news outlets. For a summary, watch our video below:

Slow Boat Sailing obtained Ms. Appel’s reported positions to the USCG in her survivor debrief. There was a large gap of reported positions to where the boat speed slowed to about 1 knot sailing downwind in the trades.

20MapGPS

The 48 hours of GPS track shows the Sea Nymph drifting slowly west (downwind) from points 1 to 2. From points 2 to 3, they sail less than one knot north, possibly to intercept the Taiwanese fishing vessel. This slow speed is in line with the very slow speeds the SV Sea Nymph skipper reported to the US Coast Guard in her survivor debrief Ms. Appel was interviewed in October. A boat with any sails up should have made better than one knot downwind in the opinion of Slow Boat Sailing. Thus, her reported speeds were more consistent with a sailboat “adrift” contrary to Ms. Appel’s assertions on her GoFundMe page. An other explanation for the slow speeds from June 26, 2017, until their tow on October 24, 2017, was that the SV Sea Nymph visited an island on the way, but Ms. Appel has always denied that too.

From point 3 to 4, the speed averages 4.5 knots upwind. That is well below the SV Sea Nymph’s 7.6 knot maximum hull speed. This is could be when the Sea Nymph was towed. This seems to dispute speculation by Slow Boat Sailing and others that perhaps the distress Ms. Appel and Ms. Fuiava felt was from a too fast tow. Motoring upwind in a mild to moderate ocean swell is definitely less comfortable than sailing or drifting downwind at a slow speed. By their accounts, Ms. Appel and Ms. Fuiava had been sailing downwind for 120 days at that point. Their distress at the tow, may reflect their inexperience motoring upwind in mild to moderate ocean swells. That was something the Slow Boat Sailing crew struggled with on their way to Ecuador.

The fishing vessel was in all likelihood towing the sailboat at a reasonable speed. This upwind course only lasted about 15 hours until the boat speed slowed down to less than a knot between points 4 and 5. That may be when they dropped the tow. This seems consistent with a boat largely adrift and a reasonable towing speed far below the Sea Nymph’s hull speed. There was less than 105 nautical miles traveled on the GPS track.

The local time was 10 hours ahead of GMT (London) plotted on the first figure. For a timeline of the last two days, the US Navy press release is a reasonable guide:

“On Oct. 24, they were discovered 900 miles southeast of Japan by a Taiwanese fishing vessel. The fishing vessel contacted Coast Guard Sector Guam who then coordinated with Taipei Rescue Coordination Center, the Japan Coordination Center, and the Joint Coordination Center in Honolulu to render assistance. 

Operating near the area on a routine deployment, Ashland made best speed to the location of the vessel in the early morning on Oct. 25 and arrived on scene at 10:30 a.m. that morning. Ashland dispatched a small team of Sailors to provide aid and attempt to fix the mariners failed engine. Ashland’s boat engineer was unable to fix the engine due primarily to a lack of requisite parts. Given the inoperable engine, combined with other equipment degradations expressed by the mariners, Ashland’s commanding officer chose to take the mariners and their two dogs on board. The mariners and their two dogs were safely aboard the ship at 1:18 p.m.”

The Navy account and GPS tracks line up with the first contact and tow happening in the daylight hours of GMT+10 at points 2 to 4. The USS Ashland arrived at the scene between points 4 and 5 of the GPS track. Ms. Appel must have turned off her GPS shortly after coming aboard the USS Ashland at 13:18 local time (GMT+10) or 3:18 GMT. The last track reading on that day was at 3:23 GMT or 13:23 GMT+10.

It seems likely that the Sea Nymph was towed upwind after Ms. Appel called for the Navy rescue from the satellite phone aboard the fishing vessel. The distress call was made on the 24th but the Sea Nymph stopped moving east at 7:13 local time (GMT+10) on October 25, 2017. Thus, Ms. Appel called (with a satellite phone on the fishing boat) to be rescued from the Taiwanese fisherman on October 24, 2017.  She told NBC, “They tried to kill us during the night”. Nevertheless, it seems likely that she did not drop the tow until at least seven hours after she made the distress call. The Taiwanese government has disputed Ms. Appel’s allegations that the fishing vessel posed any danger to the women or their boat.

As an aside, Ms. Appel told the USCG that they signaled for rescue since June 26, 2017, that is 22 days longer that they signaled for rescue by VHF, flares, and hand signals then they reported to the media. They told reporters in their conference call on the USS Ashland in October 2017 that they signaled for rescue for only 98 days prior to October 24, 2017, when they got the fishing vessel’s tow. It is not clear why there is this discrepancy in the number of days that Ms. Appel reported signalling for rescue, but not using her EPIRB. USCG interviewers criticized Ms. Appel’s decision to not use an EPIRB in their phone conversation with her on the USS Ashland.

Dr. Linus Wilson, is the creator of the Slow Boat Sailing Podcast and YouTube channel.  He has written three books about sailing including How to Sail Around the World Part-Time. He sails out of New Orleans and his 31-foot Island Packet sailboat at the time of writing was awaiting the next leg of the Pacific crossing in Tahiti. Dr. Wilson holds a six-pack captain’s license.

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Exclusive: Junk Skipper Towed by USCG Off Hawaii on New Years Eve Left Oz Bound for South Africa in 2014 on Round the World Trip

by Linus Wilson

Slow Boat Sailing has learned that Kris Larsen is the name of the Russian skipper of the SV Kehaar, a 31-foot, steel, junk-rigged sailboat that the USCG towed into port off Maui on December 31, 2017. The USCG was not releasing the skipper’s name. Based on his reported ports, it appears Mr. Larsen has been sailing west-bound around the world by way of Cape of Good Hope and through the Panama Canal since departing Darwin, Australia in 2014. Mr. Larsen sailed out of Darwin, Australian in 2014 bound for South Africa. His boat was recently towed into Maui by the USCG after 104 days at sea after his last port of Panama. His wife, Nat Uhing, wrote in her blog that his boat lacked basic electrical gear and an engine.  She wrote:

Kris Larsen on boat with crew Snapped by Raymond Bideaux

Photo by Raymond Bideaux reproduced with permission. Kris Larsen and his wife Nat Uhing sailing off Haiti in 2016.

He was intentionally vague about his departure…didn’t want any parties, last minute well-wishers, or the generally curious trying to catch up for one last handshake, lame joke, or to ask the same dozen questions he has answered, over and over again, since he first built his steel Chinese-junk-rigged sailboat and started sailing around without the usual engine, GPS, EPIRB, digital charts, radio, solar panels, water-maker, or toilet.

Kris Larsen Snapped by Raymond Bideaux in Haiti

Photo by Raymond Bideaux reproduced with permission. Kris Larsen on his boat SV Kehaar in Haiti in 2016.

His original destination was South Africa according to the Nat’s blog.

Public domain photos by the USCG of SV Kehaar right before it was towed into Maui on December 31, 2017.

He was towed into Sugar Beach in Maui, Hawaii, by a 45-foot USCG boat on Sunday, December 31, 2017, after 104 days at sea. His last port was Panama. He meant to sail the South Pacific, but was blown off course, according to USCG interviewers.

Mr. Larson is the author of several books, including an account of his previous 45,000 nautical miles in his junk-rigged sailboat, Moonsoon Dervish.  He also wrote a 19-page manual on celestial navigation. Slow Boat Sailing saw several of the self-published titles marked as sold on Ms. Uhing’s Etsy page, but could find none currently for sale. James Baldwin devotes a chapter, “A Law Unto Himself,” to Mr. Larsen’s voyaging in his 40s in the book The Next Distant Sea available on Amazon.

Mr. Larsen’s wife described herself on her blog as a “Filipina-American” who lives on a fishing trawler in “crocodile-infested” Darwin, Australia with her cat named Dude.

His wife quoted his reasons for departing without her in 2014:

“I’ll be turning 60 later this year. I’ve been working for a living for the past 40 years and I am tired of working. Humans are the only animals who work for a living. All other creatures live for a living. And I still have five years to go till my old age pension. I have decided I am going sailing for those five years. I will live for a living, like all other creatures in the world.”

On her Etsy page, she said in 2015 that she had rejoined her husband on the boat in Brazil. A pictures in Haiti from 2016, shows Ms. Uhing sitting at the stern of the boat. On a recent blog she wrote, ” I left him behind in Guatemala in August 2016.”

Mr. Larsen was sailing alone when he was towed by the USCG on the last day of 2017. He signaled to a passing boat, requesting a tow when the USCG was called out.

Slow Boat Sailing has reached out to Mr. Larsen and his wife, Nat Uhing, to hear more about this amazing voyage, but both declined. Ms. Uhing, wrote on her Facebook page on December 31, she got the following text message from a strange number:

“Relaying a message from your husband: ‘I have arrived in Maui, Hawaii, and I am OK.'”

In an e-mail to Slow Boat Sailing, she said she got her first e-mail from him on January 4, 2018, Darwin time.

Mr. Larsen’s wife wrote on her “The Smallest Forest” Facebook page in response to a comment about her blog celebrating his arrival in Hawaii:

“I have been a nightly sniffles and tears machine for a month…”

In their press release about the incident, the USCG Honolulu wrote:

“The Coast Guard also strongly recommends that all mariners file a float plan with a friend or family member, with an approximate time of return and route. It is also recommended mariners check in regularly especially if plans should change.”

Ms. Uhing, wrote to Slow Boat Sailing by way of Facebook messenger:

“Being alone for so much time has made him sensitive to people, he tends to be very introspective and reticent, being among lots of people all a sudden can be a shock and disappointment for a couple of weeks.”

In his January 4, 2017, (Darwin time) e-mail to his wife which Ms. Uhing posted in part on her Facebook page, Mr. Larsen wrote:

‘”I am entering informational overload, after 3 and half month alone  I am very sensitive to people.”‘

In written communications, both Ms. Uhing and Mr. Larsen claimed there were inaccuracies in the USCG’s press release of the account that appeared in the Associated Press and other outlets, but both declined to state what those inaccuracies were. It’s going to be hard for the Associated Press to print a retraction, if they don’t know what is wrong.

“Being disoriented while at sea in a vessel with no communication capabilities aboard can be deadly if not handled quickly,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob Schlereth, a boarding officer and engineer at Station Maui. “We commend the good Samaritan for recognizing the complications and contacting the proper authorities to initiate a rescue.”

Ms. Uhing seemed to dispute that passenger ship the Trilogy V was a “good Samaritan” for arranging for the USCG tow in her comment on her Facebook page:

“Hmm, no, Kris says he was just bobbing like a cork, it wasn’t particularly dangerous, just no wind, so he asked a passing boat to tow him into harbour! Instead the boat decides to call the coastguard. Americans. Must’ve been the ‘Good Samaritan’, then, giving his ‘heroic’ account to the press? LOL”

Soon after the tow the “nightly sniffles and tears machine,” Ms Uhing got the first word from her husband in over 100 days when a USCG service man texted her.

The USCG wrote in their press release about the tow:

“The Coast Guard strongly recommends all mariners ensure they have proper safety gear aboard their vessel prior to departure. Properly fitting life jackets, a VHF radio or some form of communication and signaling devices are examples of safety gear that can mean the difference between life and death in an emergency.”

There is little evidence that the SV Kehaar had any of that gear or its skipper was likely to obtain such gear anytime soon. As solar power became cheaper, Herb McCormick wrote that Lin and Larry Pardey carried on the engineless, 29-foot sailboat SV Seraffyn both a backup GPS and a handheld VHF radio, which were seldom used.

One nagging inconsistency is the size of the boat, Kehaar. The USCG says its 30-feet long, the Monsoon Dervish book website says it is 31-feet long, Raymond Bideaux who met up with Mr. Larsen in 2016 in Haiti wrote that Kehaar was 32-feet long, an interview on the Atom Voyages blog says it is 33-feet long, and the Goodreads page from Monsoon Dervish says its 34-feet long. Slow Boat Sailing suspects that Mr. Larsen is the ultimate source in most or all those cases. We’ll have to wait for the next book sold on Etsy to clear this one up.

This blog was first posted on January 3, 2018. The current draft was posted on January 6, 2018.

Dr. Linus Wilson, is the creator of the Slow Boat Sailing Podcast and YouTube channel.  He has written three books about sailing including How to Sail Around the World Part-Time. He sails out of New Orleans and his 31-foot Island Packet sailboat at the time of writing was awaiting the next leg of the Pacific crossing in Tahiti. Wilson holds a six-pack captain’s license.

Aussie in 30-foot junk-rigged sailboat rescued after 102 Days at sea near Hawaii

HONOLULU — The Coast Guard, and a good Samaritan assisted a 62-year old Australian mariner in his homemade sailing vessel three and a half miles west of the Keehi Harbor, Maui, Sunday.

A 45-foot Response Boat-Medium boatcrew from Coast Guard Station Maui safely towed the 30-foot sailing vessel Kehaar Darwin to Sugar Beach, Maui. Customs and Border Protection personnel will interview the mariner before he resumes his voyage.

Coast Guard, good Samaritan assist disoriented Australian mariner off Maui

USCG public domain photo of SV Kehaar Darwin a 30-foot junk-rigged, homemade sailboat towed by the USCG on January 1, 2018, near Maui.

“Being disoriented while at sea in a vessel with no communication capabilities aboard can be deadly if not handled quickly,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob Schlereth, a boarding officer and engineer at Station Maui. “We commend the good Samaritan for recognizing the complications and contacting the proper authorities to initiate a rescue.”

At 3 p.m., watchstanders at Station Maui received a report from the operator of the commercial passenger vessel Trilogy V stating the master of the Kehaar Darwin flagged him down asking for assistance.

Reportedly he appeared disoriented and was having trouble making it into port. He departed Panama approximately 104 days earlier enroute to Australia; his vessel became beset by weather forcing him into Hawaiian waters. He was without communications equipment, an engine and his sails were in poor condition.

Weather on scene was reportedly 17 to 23 mph winds and seas to 4 feet.

The Coast Guard strongly recommends all mariners ensure they have proper safety gear aboard their vessel prior to departure. Properly fitting life jackets, a VHF radio or some form of communication and signaling devices are examples of safety gear that can mean the difference between life and death in an emergency situation.

The Coast Guard also strongly recommends that all mariners file a float plan with a friend or family member, with an approximate time of return and route. It is also recommended mariners check in regularly especially if plans should change. Mariners should check current and forecasted weather conditions prior to getting underway, and remain aware of changing conditions once on the water.

Coast Guard, good Samaritan assist disoriented Australian mariner off Maui

The above is the USCG “courtesy story.” It seems to conflict with the photo captions by the USCG that say he was rescued on January 1, 2018 (Monday) and not Sunday, December 31, 2017. Also Keehi Harbor is in Oahu not Maui. (Jennifer Appel hauled out and parked her boat at Keehi. That is why Slow Boat Sailing knows that Hawaii boating trivia.) We have contacted the USCG for further clarification. They have not released the name of the 62-year old Aussie as far as we know.

Polish Sailor Rescued after 7 Months at Sea Off Reunion Island Goes on a Rant about Polish and US Governments

If you were hoping for some insights into why Zbigniew Reket a Polish man went to sea with a modified cruise ship lifeboat with a mast and sails with his cat for company, you won’t find any insights in this interview. He goes on a rant about the Polish government and calls the USA (his home for 10 years) a “police state”, but has little to say about the strange trip that led him to be rescued off Reunion Island in the west Indian Ocean. I guess he has a lot to say after 7 months of talking to his cat, and sailing is not his favorite topic.

Here is a better account of the story:

Why Cuba?

Cuba was in the way. Open up a map or a chart and any boat coming from Florida or the Gulf of Mexico has Cuba standing between it and the Panama Canal. If you want to head south and sail around the world by way of the Panama Canal, as I did. You must work your way around Cuba.

The most popular tactic for sailors from the Gulf Coast of the U.S.A. or Atlantic Coast of North America is to head down the “thorny path.” The thorny path involves island hopping. That means slowly going east against the steady trades until you land in the eastern Caribbean. Once there, instead of motoring and beating into the wind, you can have a beam reach until you reach the Trinidad and Tobago. After 2,500 nautical miles up-wind from New Orleans, my home port, a boat will have to stop outside of the hurricane zone. It will surely have taken six months (or likely more) to get there.

Then, the crew still has a 1,000 nautical mile downwind sail across the whole length of the Caribbean Sea. On this downwind sail, the boat almost surely will have to sail through near gale or worse conditions past Colombia. There is a permanent Colombian low that often stretches from the Caribbean coast of Colombia to Jamaica that makes for a rough passage for most boats bound for the Panama Canal from the Eastern Caribbean. 3,500 nautical miles is a huge distance especially when you are mostly tacking upwind on a boat that is lucky to make 3 knots dead into the wind.

If all goes well, I would stop in the Eastern Caribbean after I had circled 90 percent of the globe. Right now I wanted to take the shorter path of about 1,500 nautical miles from New Orleans. That path went through Cuba.

I did not have the luxury of time. I was sailing around the world part-time. My wife and I decided that we did not want to quit our jobs. Since I taught, I had summers off. I could sail during the summers and my wife and my five-year-old daughter could join me for part of the summer cruise. My wife worked a more typical schedule. She only had a few weeks of vacation per year.

The earliest that I could sail was May. That was just one month before the start of hurricane season. I did not want to be living on or sailing on a boat in the most dangerous part of the hurricane belt during the height of hurricane season. June is historically the least active month of hurricane season. My new insurance company, Lloyds, required that I had to be out of the hurricane zone by July 1. Panama is outside of the hurricane belt. That meant I had May and June to get to Panama. If you factor in weather windows and going upwind, bypassing Cuba was out of the question.

In theory, you could just sail around Cuba, but the trade winds make that very difficult. Tacking on the bay is very different than beating in two-to-three meter (6-to-10 foot) swells in the Caribbean Sea. Plus the Yucatan current is stronger than the Gulfstream and it pushes a boat north at speeds of around three knots. Strong currents are prone to creating dangerous waves when wind opposes current. Thus a fair wind in the Yucatan channel west of Cuba would mean dangerous waves. If your boat’s top speed is 6 knots like mine, sailing upwind in such a strong current is almost impossible.

Being able to rest and refuel in Cuba would make sailing to Panama so much easier. We could use the barrier islands on Cuba’s south coast to break up the trade winds and swells much like sailors use the Intracoastal Waterway ICW on the eastern seaboard to make progress south to the Bahamas. The problem with the Cuba strategy was the half-century old embargo. The Cuba embargo prevented American sailors and U.S.-flagged vessels from visiting Cuba.

When Janna, Sophie, and I were sailing in the Bahamas during my sabbatical from teaching, the U.S. policy was changing on the executive level. These changes raised the prospect that I could legally sail to Cuba. This change upended fifty plus years of sailing orthodoxy that said that sailing the entire 1,000 mile east-west distance of the Caribbean Sea was the best way to sail to Panama. This orthodoxy was not brought about by good sailing directions, but in large part by the failed 50-year embargo that prevented U.S. sailors from visiting the largest island in the Caribbean Sea. We were prevented from sailing to the island that lay due north of the Panama Canal and due south of Florida. Sailing to the eastern Caribbean is sailing east to go south. It makes no sense except in the prism of the Cuba embargo.

This is a preview of Slow Boat to Cuba which will be available on Amazon in late November 2016.