Tami Ashcraft at sea

On October 12, 1983, Tami Oldham Ashcraft and her fiancé, Richard Sharp, found themselves in the path of Hurricane Raymond as they sailed a 44-foot yacht across the Pacific Ocean. The experienced sailors were delivering the luxury boat Hazana from Tahiti’s Papeete Harbor to San Diego on what was supposed to be a routine passage. Instead, the Category 4 storm whipped up violent waves and catastrophic winds that eventually capsized the small craft. In the ensuing chaos, Ashcraft suffered a serious head injury that rendered her unconscious for 27 hours. When she awoke, Sharp was gone.

Alone at sea and awash with grief and shock, Ashcraft mustered the courage to guide the battered Hazana toward the nearest landfall—1,500 miles away, in Hilo, Hawaii. She worked furiously to rig the one remaining sail and a partial spinnaker pole to gain steerage for the boat. Since the electronics were shot in the flooded vessel, Ashcraft had to rely on a sextant and a watch to navigate across the open ocean. “I ran the risk of being off the latitude of Hawaii, so that was always really heavy on my mind,” she says. “If I did not get to Hawaii, I would die.”

Despite scarce rations and serious injuries, Ashcraft made it to Hilo Harbor 41 days later. Nearly a decade after, she began writing a memoir, Red Sky in Mourning, which, after she self-published it, was released by a Hachette imprint in 2002. (Dey Street recently reissued the book under the title Adrift). Among the book’s admirers were screenwriters Aaron and Jordan Kandell. They turned it into a screenplay that became Adrift, a $35 million film adaptation of her story. The movie, directed by Baltasar Kormákur (Everest, The Deep) and starring Shailene Woodley as Ashcraft and Sam Claflin as Sharp.

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