Recently during a cruise, passengers were snapped out of their vacation mode when the captain made an abrupt stop. After changing course, everyone onboard was less concerned about what was at the buffet and more worried about what was in the water.
Passengers boarded the Pacific Princess cruise ship ready to start their vacation and float away from their responsibilities. With their problems behind them and the open ocean in front of them, they expected smooth sailing for the duration of their trip.
The boat sailed the North Sea and stopped in the British Isles during the 8-day-long excursion. The 670 guests aboard the vessel were nearing the end of their trip as they sailed back to port in Dover, England.
As you can imagine, passengers were startled when, without any warning, the cruise ship changed course. They were winding down from the day and enjoying dinner moments earlier.
Normally, cruise ships have a set course and don’t deviate from it. If they do, usually because of a storm or rough seas, it is carefully planned out and executed. So, this sudden change could only mean one thing… and that’s danger.
The captain of the Pacific Princess made a gut decision to change course immediately after seeing something alarming in the sky — a burst of light! He notified his crew members and set his new destination toward the bright light he’d seen.
As the boat drew closer to the location of the strange light, it became clear that the captain was correct in trusting his gut. This wasn’t an optical illusion, someone in need of help had lit a flare!
The captain knew that whoever lit it must be in desperate need of help, but was unsure just how badly off they were. There was no mayday signal heard over the radio, and there were no other vessels for as far as the eye could see. It was ominous, to say the least, but the captain kept up his speed all the same.
Normally the coast guard would handle a search mission like this, but the captain knew his vessel was closest to the scene. He feared that the people in need would soon get even more lost at sea, and he couldn’t let that happen on his watch.
U.S. Coast Guard
Not long after the captain changed course he spotted something floating in the ocean. He wasn’t sure what it was at first and there was nothing else around it, could this just be a piece of floating refuse?
Consortium for Ocean Leadership
At this point, the passengers on the ship began to crowd the railings on every deck and balcony that the cruise ship had. They were curious, fearful, and anxious to see what had caused the captain to abruptly change course…
As they got closer, the captain realized that there was a life raft floating adrift on the open sea! He could see some movement inside and instantly felt the hope that had been dwindling in his chest.
There were three men floating aboard and all three of them were alive! The men poked their heads out, relieved to see another ship. They had been floating for hours just hoping there was a soul out there who saw their flare.
Rather than wait hours for the coast guard to arrive on the scene, the captain wanted to attempt a rescue mission so that the men didn’t have to suffer anymore. The logistics of the rescue presented quite a challenge since a rescue vessel and cruise ship are designed very differently.
“Originally they didn’t think we were going to be able to rescue them,” Teena Dowd, a passenger on the Pacific Princess, said. “We were on the very top deck, and people were just sort of holding their breath, everybody was anxious.”
The cruise ship was able to get close enough to the stranded sailors to throw down a rope to them. Then, they were able to construct a ladder for them to climb up the side of the ship. However, this plan proved to be more complicated than they anticipated.
The first man attempted to climb up the ladder to safety but ended up slipping and plummeting back down towards the water! Luckily, the sailors were able to retrieve him and pull him back aboard the life raft.
The cruise workers went back to the drawing board and reconstructed a more sturdy ladder. It took over an hour, but eventually, they were able to successfully get all three guys out of the water and safely on the cruise ship. But the worst wasn’t over…
“Everybody clapped when they came on the ship,” Teena explained. “But we didn’t know until a while later when the captain announced that there were actually two more and we were still searching for them.”
The cruise ship stayed in the area hoping to find the remaining two sailors, while the coast guard sent out helicopters, lifeboats, and multiple ships to scour the area. They had reason to believe that the missing men ended up in the water after their ship sank in a freak accident.
U.S. Coast Guard
They searched through the night until about 3:30 in the morning and then returned to the area the next morning. Sadly, they discovered the bodies of two men who were later identified as the two missing sailors.
Ministry of National Defense
Although this story had a bittersweet ending, if it wasn’t for the quick action of the Pacific Princess captain, the number of casualties might have been even greater. Three men got to go home to their families that night.
The Courier Mail
Thankfully the stranded sailors only had to endure a few hours of hopeless drifting, but just imagine being stranded at sea for months! That might sound completely impossible, but it was very real for two women aboard the Sea Nymph.
In early May of 2017, Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava, along with their dogs, Valentine and Zeus, boarded their yacht, the Sea Nymph. Their course was set to sail from Honolulu to Tahiti, a trip meant to take just under 3 weeks. But plans quickly changed when the unexpected hit.
Shortly after departing, a devastating storm damaged the Sea Nymph. Their steerage system was essentially ruined, inhibiting them from keeping any sort of course. Just hours after hitting the open sea, Appel and Fuiava were rendered helpless, completely at the mercy of the Pacific.
The two women had only met a few months earlier, and they were certainly an odd duo. Appel was 47 when they started the voyage and Fuiava, just 27. Despite their significant difference in age, their experience sailing was about the same — basically none at all.
Fuiava had previously been a security guard in Samoa, while Appel was coming from a job in Texas as a landscaper. Appel’s plan was to settle on the Polynesian Island and find her way into organic farming. Fuiava was just in it for the adventure. That adventure, as it turned out, was a lot more than she bargained for.
In spite of the two women’s nominal seafaring experience, they did make some elaborate preparations. For example, they somehow had the wherewithal to stock enough food for themselves and their two dogs to last them a year. So while Appel and Fuiava were adrift on the Pacific, they could at least rest assured they wouldn’t starve.
As days turned into months, friends and family ashore grew concerned about the two women. Fuiava’s mother reported her daughter missing at sea after only days had passed and there was no word from her. Even still, their whereabouts, let alone whether or not they had survived the storm, were a mystery.
Then in late October of 2017, almost 5 months since the two women had gone missing, their boat was spotted. A crew of Taiwanese fishermen discovered the boat about 1,000 miles off the Japanese coast. As the crew approached the defeated Sea Nymph, they braced themselves to encounter the worst.
After five long months alone at sea without any contact, Appel, Fuiava, and their two dogs were alive and well! The Taiwanese fishing crew contacted the U.S. Coastguard based out of Guam. The USS Ashland was then promptly dispatched on a mission to rescue the two women and their pets.
Appel reported that seeing the Navy ship on the horizon felt like the ultimate salvation. She recounted, “They saved our lives. The pride and smiles we had when we saw [them] was pure relief.” Not surprisingly, the women also had some truly wild stories from their longtime adrift.
An ongoing encounter with a group of tiger sharks was one of the more hair-raising stories Appel shared. She explained how a group of the sharks, some up to 30 feet, had surrounded their yacht and used it as a prop in teaching the young sharks how to hunt. Appel described the sharks batting at the boat and attacking the hull at night.
As word spread about Appel and Fuiava’s rescue and the tales they relayed, people started to cast doubt on the plausibility of what the women claimed to experience. One of their biggest critics was George Brugess, a shark expert from The Florida Museum of Natural History.
Brugess cast doubt on Appel’s story of the sharks. He clarified that tiger sharks are not social animals and would never be in groups. He also made the point that tiger sharks never grow anywhere near 30 feet, and they also don’t teach their young how to hunt.
Others question the validity of the storm that wrecked them in the first place. The National Weather Service reported that there were no storms on May 3rd when the women claimed they had been ravaged. Footage from NASA satellites backed up the weather reports, yet Appel vehemently protested.
According to her, they were caught in a Force 11 storm. To prove her case, she printed out an email from a Coast Guard forecasting 10-foot waves on that date. Even so, a Force 11 storm would produce waves between 37 and 52 feet. This would make Appel’s claims more than just a small exaggeration.
The other big mystery about the Sea Nymph was why a distress signal was never sent out. There was indeed a working Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon aboard the yacht. If the women truly felt in peril, why did they never employ their rescue device?
When questioned about this, the two reported that they never felt they reached a level of danger worthy of activating the alarm. After five months of aimless drifting, maybe they just got into the ultimate chill mode? Who knows, but that was definitely a long time to sit and just hope for the best.
As Appel and Fuiava’s story came under more scrutiny, other publications came out to report on the women in a more pejoratively defaming sense. The Daily Mail uncovered some of Appel’s past that includes work as a “professional dominatrix and exotic dancer.” How this was pertinent to the story was unclear.
To their defense, the women set up a GoFundMe page. The description for their campaign gave a long, detailed account of all the was misconstrued. It has garnered many negative comments and in 11 months only raised $40.
Even with the questionable tale and contemptuous response, both women said they were not deterred from setting sail again in the future. Though they admitted they would make better preparations.
We may never know what really happened on their boat that fateful day. The important part was that no one, not even the doggies, was harmed in this strange happening. Whatever happened at sea, stayed at sea.