Two American women who had been lost at sea for five months were rescued by the U.S. Navy’s Sasebo-based amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) some 900 miles southeast of Japan on Wednesday.

The mariners, Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiaba, as well as their two dogs, had been en route to Tahiti from their home in Hawaii when their engine failed two months after beginning the voyage.  At the time, they were already well past their expected arrival.

“I’m grateful for their service to our country. They saved our lives. The pride and smiles we had when we saw [U.S. Navy] on the horizon was pure relief,” said Appel.

According to the women, their engine failed on May 30th during a bout of severe weather, but they’d hoped that they could continue on and reach shore under sail.  They transmitted daily distress calls, but until recently, were not close enough to land or any other vessel for the calls to be received.  Finally, on Tuesday, a Taiwanese fishing boat discovered them thousands of miles off of their original course, and relayed their location to the U.S. Coast Guard in Guam.

The USS Ashland found them less than 24 hours later.  The massive 610 foot amphibious docking landing ship approached the drifting sail boat, which was quickly assessed to be “unseaworthy” at this point, before deploying a smaller craft with sailors to execute the rescue.

Jennifer Appel is welcomed aboard by USS Ashland Command Master Chief Gary Wise after her rescue. (U.S. Navy)

Appel and Fuiaba were able to survive their ordeal thanks to having water purifiers and a year’s worth of food stowed on board.  They’ve been living primarily off of oatmeal, pasta and rice since finding themselves adrift. However, they still faced other dangers.

Appel explained that she once took the dogs downstairs and “we basically laid huddled on the floor and I told them not to bark because the sharks could hear us breathing. They could smell us.”

“There is a true humility to wondering if today is your last day, if tonight is your last night,” she recounted.