To some, having a movie made about the most traumatic incident in your life would be torturous. For Tami Oldham Ashcraft, though, it was apparently the best way to finally put the past behind her. Losing her fiancé and surviving the worst hurricane on record in the Pacific Ocean was only prelude to spending 42 days stranded at sea, sailing for help with only a sextant and watch to guide her. The film about her incredible journey starring Shailene Woodley and Sam Clafin, is out June 1, but where is the real Tami from Adrift in 2018? Her journey towards seeing her story on screen has been intense, to say the least.
Ashcraft played a big role in getting Adrift made as a film. The movie tells a heartbreaking story that began in the '80s, when the sailor's fiance Richard Sharp, agreed to sail a yacht from Tahiti to San Diego on behalf of a client. Though both Tami and Richard were experienced sailors, Tami had never taken such a long sea journey. But with her fiance's encouragement, their future ahead of them, and the promise of new adventure, the 23-year-old decided to join Richard on the trip. Two weeks out, they heard warnings of a storm that quickly turned into a Category 5 hurricane. Though they tried to outsail it, maneuvering the ship through hundred-foot waves and whipping winds, the storm was too much. As Ashcraft went below-deck, leaving Richard to pilot, she heard him shout, then was knocked unconscious.
When she woke, she had a bad gash on her head, the yacht was destroyed, and there was no sign of Richard anywhere. She managed to patch the ship up and sail solo until a Japanese research ship picked her up off the coast of Hilo, Hawaii 41 days later, the story Adrift focuses on in detail. But surviving was just the first step of Ashcraft's ordeal.
She knew telling her story would be the only way she could move past it, but for a long time it just wasn't possible. Speaking to the Chicago Tribune Ashcraft explained, "I've always wanted to write my story, but it took me years to move on from being totally consumed by it. It took me six years even to read a book again because I had a major head injury." Though she'd developed severe phobias based on loss of control, including fear of flying, when she could read again she began with Herman Melville, most famous for his whaling book Moby Dick.
Eight years after the incident, Ashcraft began allowing herself to heal. She took the ring Richard gave her before they'd set sail and floated it out to sea with a rose. She slowly recovered, remarried, and became deeply involved in the sailing community of her hometown in San Juan, Washington. But she was still burdened by her memories. As she told the Tribune, "while I was having my first child I decided that it was time to write the book. I had always wanted to write it. I couldn't believe how much I was still holding around in my head."
In 2003, 20 years after her journey, she published Red Sky in Mourning: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Survival at Sea with the assistance of Susea McGearhart. Speaking to the San Diego Tribune, Ashcraft said, "[Richard's] face is so imprinted on my brain. His intense blue eyes. There was no closure for me then. The book was closure. It was a tribute to him."
And yet it wasn't quite enough. When producers came to Ashcraft floating the idea of turning her story into a movie, she did more than sign off. According to Red Carpet Crash she worked closely with them and the twin brother writing team behind Moana to bring her story to the big screen. Some distinct changes were made to suit the different medium, but Ashcraft backed them completely, explaining, "I think it's a marvelous way they did the creativity and work to bring the story to life."
For the sailor, now happily married with two children and still living and working in Washinton, Adrift might be the final closure she sought all these years.