In 1965, off the coast of Tonga, a group of boys set out for what they thought would a couple days of fun. In reality, their reckless joyride turned into a nightmare that would last for over a year. Lost and alone, they were forced to find a way to survive on a deserted island by themselves — until a fishing boat happened to pass by.
It was a hot day in June, and six Tongan boys – Sione, Stephen, Kolo, David, Luke and Mano, boarding-school students in Tonga’s capital Nuku‘alofa — needed a change of scenery. The strict Catholic school atmosphere wasn’t suiting them.
Though they ranged in age from 13 to 16, the boys shared a major commonality: they were bored and tired of school meals. Their solution was to go fishing, so they planned to sail to Fiji.
However, being teens, none of them had transportation. They needed a boat. Luckily, local fisherman Taniela Uhila had a few, so — already disliking him — they snuck down to the waterfront and “borrowed” one 24-foot craft.
With a lack of seafaring experience but plenty of anxiety to get going, the boys didn’t pack carefully. They brought two sacks of bananas, some coconuts, and a gas burner — nothing more, not even a map or compass.
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Late in the evening, they made their getaway from Nuku‘alofa’s harbor, not telling anyone where they were going. At first things went well: no one saw them leave, and the weather was clear. However, in the wee hours of the morning, they made a huge mistake.
After dropping anchor off the coast of Tongatapu, they fell asleep, with no one awake on watch. A storm rolled in, breaking the anchor rope, and the boys awoke to a squall. The wind tore up their sail, and tossing seas snapped the rudder.
For the next week, the boat drifted aimlessly. Mano later recounted that they had no water or food, except for a few raw fish. They collected a bit of rain in coconut shells, but the water was so limited, each boy got only two sips per day.
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But after eight days, when the boat was beginning to fall apart, they spied their saving grace. An island jutted up over the horizon. One side was mostly sharp rocks and cliffs, not beachy or inviting, but it had a few trees and it was land.
The boys scrambled ashore. This was the island of ‘Ata, considered to be uninhabitable. It was once home to a thriving community, but in 1863 almost half its population had been kidnapped for slavery or killed by disease, so the remaining citizens relocated to nearby ʻEua.
The boys didn’t know this. All they knew is that they needed ground rules. They promised not to argue on the island, because fights would likely escalate and become life-threatening. If things got heated, they separated until they calmed down, and then reconvened to apologize.
The boys also created a schedule. They did everything in pairs, so that in case of danger, nobody was ever alone. They set up a garden, kitchen, and watchposts and then made a roster to assign rotating duties. Every morning and evening they sang and had group prayer.
In the beginning, the group ate fish, coconuts, and any seabirds they could catch. As they explored further inland, they discovered an old volcano where the former ‘Ata civilization had been. There, they found wild taro, bananas, and chickens, descended from those kept by former inhabitants.
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With the gas burner, the boys lit a fire, and tended it constantly for fifteen months. They carved out fallen tree trunks to collect rainwater, built coops for the wild chickens, and fashioned a rugged gymnasium and badminton court for downtime.
To keep spirits high, Kolo made a small guitar. He salvaged steel wires from the boat, which was now in pieces, and attached them to a piece of driftwood and a coconut shell he carved with the group’s only knifeblade.
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The musical boost was much-needed. Rain was scarce, and the boys were parched of thirst. They built a raft to escape, but it was destroyed in the powerful waves. One day, Stephen slipped and fell off a cliff, breaking his leg.
Just when the boys thought they’d be there forever, passing fisherman Peter Warner noticed a strange pattern of fires on ‘Ata. He sailed closer to check it out — and saw a human jump into the sea, swimming straight for his boat.
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The boy was Stephen, and he was followed by the other five. “We’re from Tonga, and we’ve been here 15 months,” they told Warner, who radioed the news to the mainland. The radio operator confirmed their story ecstatically; the boys had been thought dead.
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When they returned to Nuku‘alofa, a huge celebration was held. Doctors were stunned at the boys’ good health, particularly at Stephen’s perfectly healed leg. The fisherman Taniela Uhila was irate about the loss of his boat, but Warner purchased a new one for him to smooth things over.
Warner had a new ship commissioned and called it ‘Ata. He hired the six boys — now men — to join him as crew, and they were finally able to fulfill their desire to travel the world, fishing and seeing what lay beyond Tonga.
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In 2020, the story of the castaways resurfaced and reconnected the four ‘Ata survivors with Peter Warner. News of this reached Hollywood, and U.S. film studio New Regency bought the story rights, with the survivors hired as consultants.
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They related to a case from 2017, when 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, were harmed in this strange happening. Whatever happened at sea, stayed at sea. But for another sailor, the maritime survival was a bit more dire…
When a middle-aged fisherman named Louis Jordan mysteriously disappeared at sea one fateful day, his family braced themselves for a lifetime of unresolved heartbreak. Would they ever see their son again?
Louis was a 37-year-old fisherman and dock worker from South Carolina who loved being out at sea. So when he embarked on a trip in January 2015 off the coast of South Carolina all by himself, no one thought much of it.
Louis told his family he was going to be home later that same evening, but he never came back. His parents were sure he decided to spend an extra day at sea without telling them, but then a week passed with no word from their son…
Louis’s parents decided they needed to take some kind of action. They began passing out flyers along the coast, hoping someone had seen him. They also started monitoring a list of dead bodies that washed onto the Carolina shores, praying that Louis wasn’t one of them.
Louis’s family held on hope for as long as they could. However, after two straight months, they started to come to terms with the fact he may never return home. His mother hung up photos of him and his boat as a memorial.
Even though friends and family weren’t certain of Louis’s whereabouts, several of them held memorial services in his honor. They all knew the odds of him returning after two months at sea were slim to none.
The family still wanted to believe that they would suddenly receive a phone call telling them Louis had been rescued, but the chances of that happening now seemed like a pipe dream.
However, on Good Friday morning, something astounding happened: Louis Jordan, emaciated, exhausted, but alive, arrived at his parent’s home and jumped into their arms. Their son was back! But how?
Apparently, the day before Good Friday, a massive cargo ship spotted Louis sitting on top of a battered boat that was barely afloat. He was 200 miles off the coast of North Carolina!
According to Louis, a huge swell capsized his 35-foot-long boat during a storm just a couple of days into his journey. The mast of his ship broke in the process along with his radio equipment. He also seriously injured his shoulder. After, he was left drifting alone in the middle of the ocean.
Because Louis was a seasoned fisherman, he was able to bring the ship back to its proper positioning after it capsized. But Louis faced another dire situation: how was he going to catch food with a broken shoulder and almost no equipment?
Luckily, he had pancake mix and a small supply of clean drinking water. But he needed to be extremely mindful of how he rationed his portions. He used his boat’s stove, which still worked, to cook the pancakes, and he managed to catch a few fish using a small net.
Louis also needed to bail water out of his boat frequently to keep it afloat. It suffered a lot of damage in the storm and would take on water throughout the day. Louis managed to remove the sea water, and he also began to collect rainwater to drink.
Using his expertise, Louis was able to construct a makeshift mast and sail. Unfortunately, the ocean’s currents were too strong for the mast to do any significant work, but the wind did help to move the vessel, albeit slowly.
According to Louis, one of the most important items he had with him was a copy of the Bible. He read it over and over again, cover to cover. He prayed every day, hoping it would help him reach safety.
On the day Louis was saved, he was standing atop his vessel waving his arms like a madman and screaming at the top of his lungs. At 1:30 p.m., the day before Good Friday, the coast guard received a call that the Houston Express, a massive cargo ship, picked up a stranded sailor.
Once back on land, Louis was flown to a hospital in Norfolk, Virginia. However, he refused treatment once he got there despite the fact he had a broken shoulder and was severely dehydrated. He wanted nothing more than to reunite with his family as quickly as possible.
The coast guard called Louis’s family to make sure they would be home when he returned. The family was dumbfounded by the phone call. They had almost entirely given up hope, but now their prayers had just been answered.
Louis and his family had an emotional reunion as soon as he arrived. Watching their son walk into the room alive and well was the greatest moment of their lives. They embraced each other for what felt like an eternity, and then they sat down and ate a delicious Easter dinner.
What is Louis going to do now that he’s back on land? He’s not entirely sure. He’s currently living with his parents and taking things day by day. Right now, he’s just glad to be alive, and so is everyone else!