Saved by a Spirit Voice

May 6, 2018

‘and she did so thanks to the guiding spirit of her dead fiancé, whose insistent voice, day by day, had urged her on to a seemingly impossible survival.That voice, she says, brought her back from the brink, helping her navigate with just a sextant and the stars above her head.’

Taking a 44ft luxury yacht from Tahiti to California, a voyage of some 4,000 miles across the glistening waters of the Pacific, was the chance of a lifetime for two avid young sailors.

And the task seemed as simple as it was pleasurable: sail the Hazana to her winter berth in San Diego on behalf of the well-heeled owners.

Yet the reality for this gilded couple, Tami Oldham Ashcraft and her British fiance, Richard Sharp, could barely have proved more catastrophic – as the course they set put them directly into the path of Hurricane Raymond and one of the most destructive storms in recorded history.

With winds of 140-knots and towering 40ft waves, Raymond struck them with the force of a wrecking ball, flipping the vessel over, forcing Richard overboard and leaving Tami alone aboard the devastated craft. The mast was broken, the sails in shreds and the boat itself flooded with water.

What followed was a story of good fortune, rare courage, and redemption. For more than 40 days, with her boat crippled, equipment smashed and heart broken, 23-year-old Tami somehow endured the elements threatening to annihilate her and then conquered them – and she did so thanks to the guiding spirit of her dead fiancé, whose insistent voice, day by day, had urged her on to a seemingly impossible survival.

That voice, she says, brought her back from the brink, helping her navigate with just a sextant and the stars above her head.

Now her ordeal and the extraordinary memoir that followed have been made into a big-budget Hollywood film, Adrift, set for release in June, and featuring British actor Sam Claflin as Richard and Shailene Woodley as Tami.

Yet even the big-screen treatment could hardly be more dramatic than the true 1,500-mile solo epic that Tami describes in Red Sky In Mourning: A True Story of Love, Loss And Survival At Sea, which will be re-published next month as Adrift.

It was September 1983 when the two young sailors embarked on what they imagined to be a routine delivery for the Hazana’s British owners, Peter and Christine Compton.

At 34, Richard was more than a decade older than his young American lover, but with his his lapis lazuli eyes, golden hair and ‘exotic’ English accent, he meant everything to her. They had already spent a year and a half together on the Pacific, delivering and mending boats.

True, the distance involved in this new mission was vast, yet the pair had few concerns, as Tami later recalled in a series of moving interviews: ‘I’d been sailing blue water for four years. Together we had 50,000 miles of ocean-sailing under our belts. We hugged, laughed, made love and relaxed into 20 days of paradise.’

A disastrous reality was less than two weeks away, in the shape of tropical storm Raymond, which ‘tore out of the blue’, hit hurricane force then held its peak intensity for two catastrophic days.

It was Richard who spotted a monster wave approaching the Hazana and ordered Tami below deck while he secured himself with a safety harness and tried to keep the vessel afloat.

Moments later she heard him scream ‘Oh my God!’ and her world was thrust into darkness.

Tossed like a cork on the raging ocean, the yacht had flipped end over end. It was 27 hours before she regained consciousness to an eerie silence and utter devastation. The cabin was half-filled with water, everything inside it smashed or scattered on the floor.

Scrambling out onto the deck she looked desperately for Richard but found only wreckage. The boat was all-but destroyed: masts were broken off and the waterlogged sails floated uselessly in the water.

Richard’s safety line dangled ominously off the boat. Tami shouted his name over and over again, but found only empty ocean. Richard was nowhere to be seen.

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