During the storm, Tami Oldham Ashcraft could tell the boat was pitched end over end through the ocean by the way debris had settled, and objects like dishes had jammed in the back of the cupboards. The engine had seized and the electronics were fried. 1,500 miles in the middle of nowhere, Ashcraft was all alone. Her fiance, with whom she set sail, was nowhere to be found. Somehow she survived.
“It took me two weeks just to get the water out of the boat,” she said.
On June 1, STXfilms releases “Adrift” in movie theaters nationwide, including the Palace Theatre in Friday Harbor. Ashcraft will be there to welcome the audience. Directed by Baltasar Kormákur of “Everest” and starring Shailene Woodley (who plays Ashcraft), of “Big Little Lies” and star of “The Hunger Games,” Sam Claflin (who plays Richard Sharp), this drama tells the true story of Ashcraft, who penned her traumatic tale with Susea McGearhart in her memoir “Red Sky in Mourning” almost 16 years ago. The book “Adrift: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Survival” published by Dey Street has been updated with a new foreword and epilogue by the author. A book signing is scheduled at 7 p.m., July 2, at the San Juan Library.
“The movie really turned out beautifully,” said Ashcraft, who recently saw the finished product.
Ashcraft added that the film captured the intensity of the story. At its core, the tale is a love story, woven together with tragedy and survival. It took Ashcraft five years working with screenwriters Aaron and Jordon Kandell, to finish the screenplay, plus an additional couple of years for filming and editing.
“Sam reminded me so much of Richard, [Sharp, her fiance at the time] it was almost uncanny,” Ashcraft said, noting that the two men shared many of the same humor and mannerisms.
“Adrift” tells the first-person account of Ashcraft who, young and in love, set sail from Tahiti in 1983 under blue skies with Sharp for Ashcraft’s hometown of San Diego. Their whole lives ahead of them, the two free spirits and avid sailors couldn’t anticipate that less than two weeks into their voyage they would sail directly into one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded history. They found themselves battling pounding rain, waves the size of skyscrapers and 140-knot winds. Sharp tethered himself to the boat and sent Ashcraft below to safety.
Ashcraft was knocked unconscious, and was awakened hours later, to find the seas now eerily calm, their boat ravaged with no masts, and Sharp nowhere in sight. Ashcraft had been lucky, she said, she had not broken any bones, and that when she had fallen unconscious, she was facing upward. If she had been facing toward the floor, she would have drowned. Ashcraft also discovered, after talking to staff at the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, that she had been out for at least 27 hours, not three, as she originally guessed.
“The first capsize happened around 1 in the afternoon, which is when I was hit on the head. When I came to, it was approximately 4 in the afternoon. I just assumed it was the same day,” Ashcraft said.
NOAA however, explained to her that a hurricane of that size would not have calmed in three hours, therefore she must have been unconscious at least a full day.
“I had to give myself a stern talking to. I was crying so hard I was losing water, physically, and I did not have much drinking water left. I had to tell myself to stop,” Ashcraft said.
After clearing what was left of the boat of water she set a course toward what she gauged to be the nearest land, Hawaii.
Despair and grief over her situation and losing Sharp slowly gave way to determination for survival. Finally, after over a month alone at sea, she caught sight of a large ship. With two flares left, Ashcraft signaled the vessel which approached her immediately. She and the boat’s crew, Ashcraft commented, all started to cry. The ship was too massive to get her to shore, but the crew called the U.S. Coast Guard, gave her food and coffee, and towed her as close as they could. The Coast Guard finally arrived and towed her the rest of the way to Hilo, Hawaii. Once on shore, she had to make a statement to the guard about the accident.
“One of the men was so nice, he kept telling me there was a shower in the building I could use if I wanted, but I didn’t want a shower, I wanted to eat and talk to someone,” Ashcraft laughed, noting that later when she looked in the mirror she understood what he had been talking about.
“My hair was matted with months worth of sea salt, and I was covered in blood from my head injury, and I had cuts all over my body,” she said.
According to a press release by Dey Street Books, the book is “perfect for fans of Cheryl Strayed’s ‘Wild,’ John Krakauer’s ‘Into the Wild’ and Sebastian Junger’s ‘The Perfect Storm,’ ‘Adrift’ is a heart-wrenching and unforgettable story about the resilience of the human spirit and the transcendent power of love.”
Purchase the book at www.harpercollins.com/9780062868206/adrift-movie-tie-in.