The human spirit is stronger than anything that can possibly happen to it. No matter the amount of pain, trauma, or heartache life throws your way, the will to survive and overcome is always stronger. Yet the person who walks away from the unsurvivable can never be the same.
In 1983, one California 23-year-old found herself in a situation no one should ever have to endure. In a split second, her life, and everything she held dear, was turned upside down. Yet in her darkest moment, she managed to find something worth living for…
On October 13, 1983, 23-year-old Tami Oldham Ashcraft opened her eyes for the first time in over a day and was completely disoriented. She was on a boat, which wasn’t unusual for the avid sailor, but there was 3 feet of water below deck and she was bleeding from her head.
That wasn’t the only thing that was alarming. When Tami managed to climb up to the deck, she discovered there was no sail in sight. The only thing she could see was the open ocean in every direction. When she looked closer, the mainmast was missing, as was her sailing partner…
It felt like it had only been yesterday for Tami when she was pleasure sailing with her fiance, Richard Sharp, In the South Pacific. The California native and her British partner had spent six months in Fiji sailing around for fun and planning their future together.
Yet the pair had decided to put their dream life of pleasure sailing Richard’s 36-foot sailboat, called the Mayaluga, when they were hired to sail and deliver a 44-foot luxury yacht, the Hazana, from Tahiti to its new owner in San Diego…
Planning The Voyage
Tami and Richard had more than 50,000 combined logged hours of experience, which made them perfect for the job. When planning the voyage, the couple made sure everything was perfect, including the weather conditions during the entire 30-day trip.
When the pair set sail out of Tahiti in late September, the sky was an intense blue and the conditions for sailing the luxury boat were perfect, just as the forecast predicted. But what they didn’t realize, and what no one could have predicted, was that they were headed straight for disaster…
After a week at sea, Tami and Richard heard a report on their radio about a tropical depression off Central America. In an attempt to avoid the storm and any dangerous conditions, they deviated from their planned route and headed north.
Tami and Richard’s attempt to outrun the storm failed. On October 12, less than three weeks into the trip, the pair ran into a Category 4 hurricane. The yacht was thrown around like a ragdoll as the waves grew up to 50 feet high and the winds roared over 160 miles per hour…
Like A Blizzard
“When the wind’s howling that hard, it’s picking up spray right off the top of the water. There’s so much spray, you can hardly see anything. It’s like being in a blizzard,” said Tami, who had never experienced such conditions in all her life as a sailor.
Tami and Richard fought desperately to keep the Hazana from sinking. After working tirelessly for hours, Richard told Tami to get below deck to watch the barometer and get some rest. The last thing she remembers from that hellish night was the sound of Richard’s scream before she was thrown against the cabin wall and knocked unconscious as the boat capsized…
27 Hours Later
The boat was thrown end-over-end through the air after it dropped into an enormous trench between waves. Tami was unconscious for the entire thing. When she awoke 27 hours later, the hurricane had finally passed but that was about all she had to feel grateful for.
When Tami climbed up to the deck, she realized for the first time that she was completely alone. Richard was nowhere to be found and the only trace of his presence was his safety line, which was severed and drifting along in the water…
More Bad News
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the mast was completely gone, the engine and the electronics were ruined, the radio was lost, and only a limited supply of food and fresh water remained. The only good thing was that the rudder, which steers the boat, was still working.
However, Tami was too heartbroken to care. “Being on that boat was like solitary confinement,” she said. Tami seriously considered giving up. For the next two days, she refused to eat anything and ate absolutely nothing as her grief consumed her…
After a few days, however, the will to live overcame Tami, even though she didn’t know what she had left to live for. A voice came into her head and she started to build a makeshift sail from a broken spinnaker pole and an extra storm jib. Then she pumped the water out of the cabin. “The voice kept me on track. I just followed it,” Tami said.
With a makeshift sail, Tami was able to sail what was left of the Hazana just over 2.5 miles per hour, but without any form of modern navigation, she had to rely on her training. Tami used an old sailing tool called a sextant, which compares the angle between the horizon and the sun, and the time of day to figure out her position. One false calculation and she’d be lost for good…
One Second At A Time
At times, the grief of losing her fiance and the guilt of being the one who survived overwhelmed Tami. But each time the depression overwhelmed her, she chose to keep fighting. “One second at a time,” Tami said of the mindset that got her through the darkest times. “Just get through one thing at a time and remain focused and determined and keep going.”
All Tami’s hard work and perseverance paid off when she finally made it to Hawaii, which was 1,500 miles away from where she started, 41 long days later. The boat was declared a total loss by an insurance company, but Tami had miraculously survived.
Once on land, however, the survival mode that Tami had been in for so long began to fade. The grief from Richard’s death became much more intense and she suffered from post-traumatic stress. “When I got to shore and the survival was over, and I could see people together and everything kept reminding me of him. I just really had a hard time,” she said.
Eventually, Tami was able to move on with her life. She found love again and started a family, but the scars from the traumatic ordeal have stayed with her. While pregnant with her first child, Tami decided to write a memoir, which was a huge success and is currently being turned into a movie. “I had always wanted to write it. I couldn’t believe how much I was still holding around in my head, and just purging it like that really helped me to get past it all.”