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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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)
AT SEA
10.27.2017
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
WHITE BEACH, OKINAWA, JAPAN
10.30.2017
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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SV Sea Nymph had no autopilot and a crew member who could not steer.

Jennifer Appel, told readers on a deleted Sailing Anarchy forum that her boat that was rescued by the U.S. Navy lacked an autopilot:

“I have been on boats with autopilots and in my experience a boat needs 2.  One to work while the pin is being fixed on the other one. . The autopilots i have experience with quit at the most ridiculous times. . As such,  i had people teach me to sail without the autopilot.  I knew it would be tough. I would have bought at least one if i hadnt spent so much on rigging. . Yes,  i expected tasha to pick it up on The fly the same way i did. . It is exhausting but we weren’t racing…  Just cruising.  The most expensive way to travel 3rd class,” Ms. Appel wrote.

In the Sailing Anarchy podcast episode 27, she told Alan Block the host that Tasha Fuiava struggled at hand steering for most of the voyage.  Thus, poor sailing skills may explain the “10-knot current” experienced in the Northern Cooks as detailed in our video below:

The Sailing Anarchy writer and podcaster Alan Block, who goes by “Mr. Clean” on the site, confirmed on that forum that the poster alias was Jennifer Appel.

 

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.

171026-N-XC372-1915

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.