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: