Experts: Parts of Hawaii sailors' dramatic lost at sea story don't add up

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For nearly a week, the dramatic rescue of Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava has been the talk of the Keehi Small Boat Harbor.

"I'm shocked they were going to Tahiti," said Desiree Hattori. "Her boat wasn't in the best shape."

Hattori says she's known Appel for at least a few years – the two lived just a few slips apart from one another. They met, Hattori says, when she offered Appel a ride to her boat aboard her dingy.

"I saw her swimming out, which is kind of dangerous. She's friendly. Very friendly and helpful," said Hattori.

On May 3, Appel and Fuiava left Oahu. Last week, they were rescued nearly 900 miles southeast of Japan. Now, questions are emerging about what happened during the five months they were at sea.

In an interview the day after their rescue, the women said trouble began almost immediately after they got underway – when they slammed into near-hurricane force winds.

"When we were crossing between Maui and the Big Island in the Alenuihaha, we ended up in a Force 11 storm that night, and that's roughly 50 to 70 mile per hour winds and waves in the 20 to 35 foot category. And that lasted three days and two nights," said Appel.

But the National Weather Service says there was no storm like that in the area at that time. It's archives indicate there was a small craft advisory in effect -- but nothing unusual.

"We just had showers in our area with trade winds and a normal trade wind pattern," said Meteorologist Charlie Woodrum

On May 30, the women claim their mast broke in a second storm. They say waves flooded the engine and their communication systems failed. The emergency beacon rescue crews found on their boat was working. If it had been activated, it would have alerted rescue crews to their location.

The Coast Guard says two contacts it had with the Sea Nymph before the rescue indicated they were not in trouble.

On May 6, the women alerted the Coast Guard that they had lost their cell phone. When the radio transmission cut out, a C-130 was sent to check on them. It found the boat about 130 miles south of the Big Island.

Then, on May 19, after a family friend called the Coast Guard concerned they hadn't yet arrived in Tahiti, an alert was issued to boats in the area to be on the lookout for the pair.

On June, two weeks after the storm the women say damaged their boat, a C-130 near Tahiti looking for them heard from a vessel claiming to be the Sea Nymph. The people on board stated they were fine, located 20 miles north of Tahiti.

The women later claimed that last communication never happened, and that at that time, they were about 1,500 miles north of Tahiti near Christmas Island.

Coast Guard officials say the have more questions for Appel and Fuiava. No word yet on when that interview might take place.

Hawaii News Now also learned this isn't the first time Appel has run into trouble on the water. In 2012 she ran aground on the rocks off Magic Island after her engine lost power. She went to the hospital. That boat was a total loss.

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