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Tami Oldham Ashcraft’s Fight for Life

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Tami Oldham Ashcraft’s Fight for Life

tami oldham ashcraft

“One second at a time…just get through one thing at a time…”

Tami opened her eyes.

She was below deck in the disheveled boat that, she saw, had taken on three feet of water.

She remembered the sea had been rough, but now it was dead calm. She felt her head and looked at the blood she found.
Finding her way up to the open air, she looked up at a broad sky above her. Something wasn’t right. What was it?

The sky. It was too broad. There was no sail in her vision. She focused, trying to clear her head; there was no mainmast. Tami looked around. There was no Richard. Only his safety line remained, severed, one end drifting aimlessly in the water.

She was alone.

The Hazana

Tami Oldham Ashcraft and Richard Sharp had been traveling together on a 44-foot sailboat named the Hazana. She and her British fiance were sailing the boat from Tahiti to San Diego, California and enjoyed the dream trip of sailing the Pacific with the person you love. That is, until an unexpected change of plans ruined everything.

They had been hired to deliver the luxury yacht to the owners and had the experience to do it. Both accomplished sailors, Tami and Richard’s combined experience of more than 50,000 logged hours made them a good choice for the job.

The weather forecast for the entire cruise indicated perfect conditions, and the sky as intensely blue on the day they weighed anchor in Tahiti.

But, just past the middle of what was planned to be a 30-day voyage, they encountered serious trouble when they ran into a Category 4 hurricane. After a week at sea, radio reports of a tropical depression off Central America came in. The two lovers tried to run north of the storm but could not avoid the tempest.

Waves up to 50 feet high and winds over 160 miles per hour battered the vessel. That meant the boat was climbing to the wave tops and dropping five stories into the trench in between.

According to Tami, “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.”

The barometer was below deck, so Richard told Tami to go there to watch the barometer readings. He remained at the wheel, and she couldn’t see him.

As they pitched in the watery chaos, Tami heard Richard scream and the boat dropped into an enormous trench between waves, capsized, and was catapulted through the air end-over-end.

hazana boat


Then, only blackness. Tami was knocked out.

She spent 27 hours unconscious before awaking to the realization that she had lost her love and was left alone in the Pacific Ocean with a broken boat.

As if that weren’t enough, the missing mast and water weren’t the yacht’s only problems. The engine and electronics were ruined. The radio was lost. The supply of food and fresh water was limited.

The only good news: the rudder used to steer the boat was still intact.

There was damage to more than the yacht. Tami herself suffered weakness from loss of blood as well as from heartbreak. It was all devastatingly hard for her.

She played with the idea of giving up. On the edge of a breakdown, Ashcraft wouldn’t eat. She did nothing for two days. “Being on that boat was like solitary confinement,” Tami said.

Saving Herself

But, after several days, a voice came into her head. “The voice kept me on track. I just followed it.”

Tami Oldham Ashcraft ‘s first and most essential move was that she chose to survive.

Throughout her ordeal, Tami fought with a wavering will to live. Depression followed her, showing up to work against her like a stalker. But, each time, she ended up choosing life and action.

She spent 41 days attempting to reach land 1,500 miles away.

Tami was stripped of all modern navigation and propulsion. However, she relied on her training and instincts. Fashioning a sail that allowed her to travel at two knots (just over 2 ½ miles per hour), she was able to position the boat in currents she hoped would bring her to the Hawaiian Islands.

red sky in mourning

Age-Old Sailing Tools

To help her get there, she fell back on a low-tech but reliable navigation tool called a sextant. It compares the angle between the horizon and a celestial object like the sun. Knowing that and the time will give you a position. The sextant yielded the readings she needed to try to reach help.

It was all up to her. It would only take one misjudgment or miscalculation on the sextant and Tami’s chances of success might all go away. Though heartbreak, fear, and depression tugged at her, trying to distract her from her mission, Tami held on.

Hers is a story that underscores the survival essentials of choosing life and, despite lack of tools, using your mind and determination to make it through.

When she started the trip, Tami Oldham Ashcraft weighed 140 pounds. When she reached Hawaii, she weighed in at 100 pounds. She was traveling in a boat that the insurance company ended up declaring a total loss. She endured loss, loneliness, mental anguish, and a grinding test of endurance.

Tami’s thoughts on women facing obstacles in their lives?

“One second at a time. Just get through one thing at a time and remain focused and determined and keep going. I really had to keep determined that I wasn’t going to die. Determination, and being adaptable to change because things were coming at me that I wasn’t normally used to … I did pull on my resourcefulness, too.”

What is the one point that Tami hopes women will take from this? “My main message is that knowledge is key for any kind of extreme sports that women get involved in. Before you go, check out gear, try to go to classes and become passionate in what you want to do.”

Tami survived that event in 1983, living now in the beautiful San Juan Islands of Washington.

And she found love again.

Postscript: You can read more about Tami’s experience in Red Sky In Mourning: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Survival at Sea published by Hyperion.

© Mark Dorr 2013, All Rights Reserved

Image Credits:
(1) ListVerse
(2) Foggia PR

Originally published on

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    I agree. Her story of a smart and capable woman alone at sea, her love lost, her boat broken, depressed but still able to save herself is impressive.

“The thing about the truth is, not a lot of people can handle it.” -Conor McGregor

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Ryan is the founder of Top Secret Writers. He is an IT analyst, blogger, journalist, and a researcher for the truth behind strange stories.
Lori is TSW's editor. Freelance writer and editor for over 17 years, she loves to read and loves fringe science and conspiracy theory.

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Gabrielle is a journalist who finds strange stories the media misses, and enlightens readers about news they never knew existed.
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Mark Dorr grew up the son of a treasure hunter. His experiences led to working internationally in some surprising situations!
Mark R. Whittington, from Houston, Texas, frequently writes on space, science, political commentary and political culture.

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