Adrift Is Based on Inspiring True Story of Tami Oldham Ashcraft

‘Adrift’ tells the story of a young woman named Tami, who finds herself lost at sea after a hurricane destroys her boat. The film goes back and forth in time to give an emotional base to her story, by focusing on her romance with a sailor named Richard. Meanwhile, we also find them struggling to keep themselves alive, with all their resources destroyed by the storm. The film tells an inspiring, at times, heartwarming story that yet again proves the worth of the human mettle for survival. It also makes us wonder whether such a thing could have really happened to someone. If yes, then how close is the film to their story? Here’s all you need to know about ‘Adrift’.

Is Adrift a true story?

Yes, ‘Adrift’ is based on the true story of Tami Oldham Ashcraft. The film takes inspiration from her book ‘Red Sky in Mourning: The True Story of Love, Loss, and Survival at Sea’. In 1983, she had been twenty-three-years-old when she met Richard and fell in love with him. They were given the reins of a boat named Hazana by friends of Richard who wanted him to sail it back to San Diego.

The first couple of weeks of their journey were fine, but then they heard on the radio a warning about a storm. They tried to change course to avoid coming in the way of the storm, but it too changed directions and they collided with what was now a Category 4 hurricane. Trying to survive the impact of about 40-foot waves, Tami was sent below deck by Richard, who fastened himself with a safety cable, trying to keep the boat steady. However, the vessel was capsized by the waves and the storm, and Richard was flung away, never to be seen again.

Tami woke up below deck, twenty-seven hours later, with a gash on her head, to find Richard’s safety line dangling on the end of the boat. Knowing that she had lost him, she didn’t have any time to grieve. She had to save herself, and for that, she started to salvage whatever she could from the wreck that would be her home for the next forty-one days on the sea.

The cabin was half-filled with water; the radio, engine, emergency system, and electronic navigation system were rendered useless; the masts were broken off, and there was nothing but canned goods and some water to keep her afloat for some time. She started with a makeshift sail and found a way to pump the water out of the cabin. Some days later, she found a sextant and a watch, which helped her determine her position in the sea and she started to chart a path for herself.

Wishing to reach Hawaii, the closest place about 1500 miles away, she survived on peanut butter and canned sardines. Despite all her knowledge and resourcefulness, she was still alone in the sea, which eventually led to hallucinations. In her book, Tami writes that there was a voice that accompanied her throughout the journey. The film uses this detail to create an imaginary Richard for her. It was this voice that kept her considerably sane and even prevented her from killing herself when she couldn’t take it anymore. At one point, she saw an island on the horizon, believing it to be Hawaii, but it turned out to be a figment of her imagination. Similarly, she saw a plane fly by, and despite all her efforts to get it to notice her, it never spotted the boat. Later, she wondered if the plane had been real at all.

For forty-one days, she kept herself alive and eventually found her way to Hilo in Hawaii. But her troubles didn’t end there. The head injury that she had received during the hurricane caused mild brain damage. Due to this, she could not read for the next couple of years. Eventually, when she could read and write again, and more importantly when she found that she could reflect on those events without pushing herself back into the trauma, she started to write a book about it.

She had to self-publish it in 1998 because it was rejected by many publishers. Eventually, Hyperion Press came around to win its publishing rights, following which her book was translated into eight languages and made available all over the world. Though she kept Richard’s memories in her heart and mind, Tami moved forward in her life. Eventually, she got married and had two children, settling in San Juan Island. As for sailing, she returned to it and has continued to explore the world through it.

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