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Adrift: History vs. Hollywood

Starring Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin

Shailene Woodley
Born: November 15, 1991
Simi Valley, California, USA
Tami Oldham
Born: March 23, 1960
Birthplace: San Diego, California, USA
Sam Claflin
Born: June 27, 1986
Ipswich, Suffolk, England, UK
Richard Sharp
Born: 1949
Birthplace: England, UK
Death: October 12, 1983, Pacific Ocean (lost at sea)

Questioning the Story:

When did the events depicted in the Adrift movie take place in real life?

In researching Tami Oldham and the Adrift true story, we discovered that the real-life events depicted in the 2018 movie spanned the months of September, October and November 1983. 23-year-old Tami Oldham and her British fiancé, Richard Sharp (34), had been pleasure sailing his 36-foot sailboat, the Mayaluga, for the previous six months. They made the decision to accept a job delivering a 44-foot yacht, the Hazana, from Tahiti to San Diego where it would be received by a new owner. They had been less than three weeks into their 4,000-mile trip when Hurricane Raymond hit. -Chicago Tribune

Top: The real Tami Oldham and fiancé Richard Sharp prior to the trip.  Bottom: Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin as Oldham and Sharp in the Adrift 2018 movie.

Did they try to escape the hurricane?

Yes. Tami and Richard knew a storm was coming, but they didn't know it would be that bad. They tried to outrun Hurricane Raymond by sailing north, battling 140 knot winds and 40-foot waves as they did their best to keep the yacht afloat. The relentless category 4 hurricane showed no signs of calming. It changed direction and stayed on their tail like a predator. -Mirror Online

Did Tami Oldham's fiancé Richard Sharp survive the hurricane in real life?

No. In real life, as they continued to battle Hurricane Raymond on October 12, 1983, Richard Sharp sent his fiancée Tami below deck to rest. He used a safety line to tether himself to the yacht in an attempt to ride out the storm and keep the boat afloat. The yacht capsized and Tami hit her head when she was thrown against the cabin wall. The force of the blow knocked her out, and the last thing she can remember hearing was Sharp screaming, "Oh my God!" She didn't wake up for 27 hours, and when she did, she went above deck and discovered Richard's safety line hanging off the edge of the boat. Her fiancé was lost at sea. She would never see him again. -Chicago Tribune

Tami Oldham remained unconscious for 27 hours after hitting her head when the boat capsized during the hurricane. The severe head injury is visible on Shailene Woodley's character in the 2018 movie.

At first, the Adrift movie seems to unfold differently than the true story. Tami wakes up and finds an injured Richard floating in the water as he clings to a small overturned lifeboat that had fallen off the yacht. She gets him back to the yacht where she cares for his broken ribs and shattered leg as he reassures her that she can get them home, despite him describing himself as being "dead weight".

However, paying close attention to the movie's trailer reveals a couple other clues to the likely reality of this situation. When Tami (Shailene Woodley) and Richard (Sam Claflin) are having dinner on his boat, he talks about the challenge of sailing and says that "you're either sleep deprived or seasick, and after a few days there's the hallucinations." This clue seems to foreshadow things to come. Coupled with Tami's bad head injury sustained during the storm, it's not hard to start wondering if Richard is merely a figment of Tami's imagination. Clues to this are also found in Tami's memoir Red Sky in Mourning. The Adrift movie's ending will undoubtedly reveal the answer.

Tami's memoir, originally titled Red Sky in Mourning, provided the basis for the Adrift movie.

Did she hear a voice when she was stranded on the boat?

Yes. In her book Red Sky in Mourning: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Survival at Sea, she talks about hearing a voice, but not that of her lost-at-sea fiancé Richard Sharp. Instead, she described it as an "inner voice" that was audible to her externally three times. It's certainly possible that her head injury and blood loss caused her to believe that she was hearing such a voice. Others believe it was God speaking to her. "I needed guidance and the voice was a real phenomenon," says Tami. "Three times it was audible externally. I've asked the voice to come back, but I never heard from it again. ... The voice kept me on track. I just followed it." -Mirror Online

Was the yacht badly damaged like in the Adrift movie?

Yes. The Adrift movie true story reveals that nearly everything on the Hazana (pictured below) was broken and strewn about. The masts had snapped off, and like in the 2018 movie, the sails were waterlogged and floated nearby. The cabin was half-filled with water. The engine and radio were broken. The radio device used to indicate the boat's emergency position was down as well, and the electronic navigation system wasn't functional either. -Mirror Online

Top: The real Hazana yacht in 1983 after the ordeal at sea.  Bottom: Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin on the movie's version of the yacht. The biggest noticeable difference is the ladder placement.

How long was the real Tami Oldham adrift at sea?

Fact-checking the Adrift movie reveals that after Hurricane Raymond struck and claimed the life of her fiancé Richard Sharp, Tami Oldham remained stranded at sea on the damaged yacht for 41 days. -Mirror Online

How did Tami Oldham survive being stranded for a month and a half on the yacht?

In 2003, she told the Chicago Tribune that she ate canned food and peanut butter, consuming everything from fruit cocktail to sardines.

How did Tami manage to find her way to land?

With the yacht's navigation system broken by the storm, Tami used a sextant to help her find her way home. A sextant is a navigational instrument that can be used to measure the angle of the sun (or another astronomical object) above the horizon. "It saved my life," says Tami. She was then able to work out her latitude using nautical maps. To remember what got her home, Tami wears a triangular-shaped sextant pendant encrusted with a diamond.

The only navigational instrument that wasn't broken during the hurricane was a sextant, which measures the angle of the sun (or other astronomical object) above the horizon. It saved her life.

Being able to successfully navigate was only part of the challenge; she also needed to keep the yacht afloat and get it moving. She fashioned a pump to prevent the cabin down below from flooding and created a makeshift sail from a broken spinnaker pole and spare storm jib. She eventually managed to get the boat into a position where she could use currents that would hopefully take her to Hawaii. -Mirror Online

Did she stitch the wound on her head?

No. In the film, we see her using sutures to self-stitch the wound shut. "There were sutures on board," Tami wrote in her book, "but I couldn’t bring myself to sew my head shut." Instead, she drew the long wound together and adhered several large butterfly bandages as pus and blood oozed out.

Did Tami consider suicide while stranded at sea?

Yes. Weak, starving, injured, and let down after mistakenly thinking she saw an island on the horizon, at one point during her journey Tami loaded a rifle that was on board and stuck it in her mouth. The internal voice she heard during her journey convinced her to stop. This intense moment is not depicted in the film. While exploring the Tami Oldham true story, we learned that it wasn't the only time her despair had led her to thoughts of suicide. -Mirror Online

Tami dealt with years of grief by eventually writing her story down and penning the book Red Sky in Mourning: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Survival at Sea. She is pictured on the left more than a decade after the tragedy.

How far did Tami Oldham sail before she reached land?

Tami navigated approximately 1,500 miles over a span of 41 days before reaching Hilo, Hawaii. As she approached the harbor, she saw a large ship on its way out. She shot off several flares before the 200+ foot vessel flashed its running lights and altered course. The ship pulled up alongside the Hazana. The crew lowered down coffee and someone tossed her an apple. They towed her inside the reef and a Coast Guard Auxiliary towed her the rest of the way. Similar to the Adrift movie's ending, as she pulled into the Big Island's Hilo Harbor, she cried tears of joy. -Mirror Online

The Adrift movie ends similar to the real-life story.

Did Tami Oldham suffer any lasting injuries?

Yes. When the boat capsized, she struck her head so hard that she couldn't read a book for the next six years. The words leapt off the page as she tried to focus on them. -Mirror Online

Did Tami Oldham continue sailing after surviving being stranded at sea?

Yes. The tragedy she endured didn't stop her from continuing to enjoy sailing. She got right back into it. "I just love it," Tami told the Chicago Tribune. "I'm passionate about it. I kind of parallel [the hurricane] to being in a car accident. You get back in the car or, like they say, back on the horse." She went on to become a "100-ton licensed captain with more than 50,000 offshore miles" to her credit.

Tami did struggle with grief and nightmares, and she spent the first eight years after the accident unable to heal. When she was able to read again, she began to deal with some of her feelings by writing her story down, eventually penning the book Red Sky in Mourning, which inspired the movie. She self-published the book in 1998, and it was later picked up by Hyperion Press and published widely in 2002.

Tami says that she never went to counseling but wishes someone would have suggested it. "I definitely had some severe post-traumatic stress syndrome," she stated. "I really wish I had taken the time to do that." -Chicago Tribune

Despite the tragedy, Tami never stopped sailing and became a 100-ton licensed captain. She is pictured here prior to the Adrift movie's 2018 release.

Did Tami Oldham ever marry?

Yes. Ten years after losing fiancé Richard Sharp at sea and surviving the ordeal, Tami met a blue-eyed man at a dance. They married in 1994, had two children, and live on San Juan Island, Washington. Tragically, their 22-year-old daughter, Kelli Ashcraft, was taken from them in 2017 as the result of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.

Tami Oldham Movie Interview & Related Videos

Dive deeper into the Adrift true story by watching the Tami Oldham Ashcraft movie interview below.

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