The Strength of the Human Spirit
When it comes to the human spirit, there is nothing as strong or as unshakeable. Despite what life might hurl your way, the spirit’s natural instinct is to survive and overcome, no matter what the cost.
In October of 1983, 23-year-old Tami Oldham Ashcraft would find herself fighting for survival against almost impossible odds. As her life and everything she knew scattered to the winds, she would have to dig deep down inside to find the will to fight on. And despite a grim outlook, Tami refused to succumb to the darkness, discovering something worth living for amongst the wreckage of her reality….
Dazed and Confused
On the morning of October 13, 1983, Tami woke to the sound of water splashing on the hull of a boat. Waking for the first time in over 24-hours, she was completely disoriented and unaware of how she got on a boat to begin with.
Even worse, there was three feet of water below deck. What had happened?
The Vastness of the Ocean
Stumbling onto the deck, Tami was alarmed at the poor condition of the sea craft. The main mast was gone, there were no sails and she was in the middle of the ocean which spread out for miles around.
And even more alarming, her sailing partner was missing…
The Day Before
It had only been weeks before that Tami and her sailing partner were enjoying the warm waters of the South Pacific. Tami, a California native and Richard, her British fiancé had spent six months sailing around Fiji. It had been a magical trip and the couple had spent those months planning the rest of their lives together.
A Simple Job
While the couple had enjoyed pleasure cruising around on Richard’s 36-foot sailboat, the couple decided to put that life on hold when they were hired to sail and deliver a luxury yacht from Tahiti to its new owner in San Diego.
More than Experienced
Between Tami and Richard, they had over 50,000 combined logged hours of experience. It was the perfect job. One that Tami and her fiancé planned down to the last detail. The trek would take 30 days, but they were up for the challenge.
The couple set sail in late September and the weather was absolutely perfect. The skies were a stunning cerulean blue and the sailing conditions were beyond perfect for sailing a luxury yacht.
Unfortunately, both Tami and Richard had no idea they were sailing straight towards an absolute nightmare.
A New Route
Seven days into their trip, Tami and Richard were notified of a tropical depression forming off Central America. Realizing they needed to avoid the storm at all costs, they re-routed north with the hopes of staying away from the storm.
Unfortunately, Tami and Richard’s change in route was not enough to outrun the storm. On October 12, three weeks into their trip, the couple sailed straight into a Category 4 hurricane. With winds of 160 miles per hour and waves over 50 feet high, the yacht was tossed around like a toy.
Unable to See
“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 recalling the nightmarish events.
A Scream in the Night
The fight to keep the yacht from sinking was almost impossible. After hours of working against the odds, Richard demanded that Tami gets below deck to watch the barometer and try to get some rest. According to Tami, the last thing she remembered was Richard’s terrified scream before she was knocked unconscious as the boat capsized.
The yacht was tossed in the air, rolling over and over before being dropped from a trench in the enormous waves. Tami would wake up 27 hours later, happy to be alive, but finding herself completely alone.
Alone at Sea
Despite being grateful for surviving, the horror that Richard was nowhere to be found quickly set in. The only evidence of Richard’s presence was his safety line drifting in the water. It had been completely severed…
Things Get Worse
As if being alone at sea wasn’t bad enough, Tami discovered that the mast was gone, the engine and electronics were no longer functioning and she had a limited supply of food and water. The only light in the darkness was that the rudder still worked, so she could possibly determine the direction of the yacht.
Consumed by Grief
According to Tami, she thought of giving up several times during her first two days alone at sea. She refused to eat or drink, the sadness of losing Richard being almost too much to take.
However, something happened that sparked a flame in the darkness, giving her hope to continue on.
A Voice on the Wind
Tami recalls hearing voice telling her she had to continue on. She then began to recall how to craft a makeshift sail. Rummaging through the wreckage, Tami was able to find enough materials to cobble together a sail that would help her navigate the waters.
Unfortunately, she would only be able to sail at a slow 2.5 miles per hour.
Looking to the Past for Guidance
Without any of the electronics working, it was almost impossible for Tami to determine which direction to steer the yacht. Thankfully, she had some old school gadgets to help her navigate. Using an old sailor’s tool called a sextant, Tami was able to determine her position by comparing the angle of the sun and the horizon.
However, one false calculation and she’d be lost forever.
Fighting Back Despair
As Tami slowly sailed her way across the great blue expanse, she was overwhelmed with sorrow. The loss of her fiancé Richard was heavy on her heart and at times she thought of just giving up. However, she continued to hear Richard’s voice whispering “one second at a time.” And that’s what she did. Day after day, night after night.
After 41 days at sea and traveling a staggering 1,500 miles, Tami finally made landfall in Hawaii, All of her perseverance and a strong will to survive paid off. However, Tami revealed that as time went on, she was once again consumed with despair. The survival part was over and now she was faced with the reality of spending the rest of her life without Richard.
A New Point of View
Today, Tami has moved on with her life, fallen in love and even had a child. Recently, she wrote a memoir about the events she experienced titled “Red Sky in Mourning,” which has been turned into a motion picture premiering this summer. In the end, Tami had this to say about the experience. “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.”