Tami Oldham Ashcraft

Red Sky in Mourning :
A True Story of Love, Loss, and Survival at Sea

(Reviewed by Judi Clark JUN 16, 2002)

When Tami Oldham and her fiancé Richard Sharp agreed to deliver the state-of-the-art sailing yacht Hazana, a Trintella 44, from Tahiti to San Diego, they already had an accumulated 50,000 miles between the two of them. Not bad considering that Tami was only 24-years-old and Richard was 34. If they were reluctant at all to deliver the boat, it was because they had only been away from San Diego for six months; Tami had hoped that they could have completed more of their own around-the-world sailing adventure, before returning home. However, the prospect of earning $10,000 was too attractive. They rationalized that it would only take four months to deliver the yacht and the money would go a long way to funding their own adventure. Young and in love, they set off in late September on a "Perfect day. Tetiaroa abeam. Full moon. Making 5 kts. In calm sea under all plain sail."

When Hurricane Raymond looked like it was headed west, although Richard made a note to "watch this one," they initially believed they were safe since they were located north of the storm. Nevertheless, they did everything in their power to try to get as much distance between them and Raymond. Alas, the storm changed directions and after several different tactics, they found themselves smack in the middle of the 140-knot winds. Richard had control of the helm and probably to protect her, told Tami to go below and let him know when she saw a rise in the barometric pressure. Unable to do anything else, she collapses into the sea hammock and no sooner does she close her eyes, the boat drops into a deep trough, she hears Richard scream and she "sails into oblivion." When she wakes, she's pinned down with contents of the boat's interior and covered with blood. In her initial disorientation, she's not even sure which boat she is on. Then she searches for Richard and comes to the awful realization that he's been swept overboard. She is not only alone in the vast sea, but much of the food is ruined by salt water, the mast is destroyed, the engine inoperable, the radio dead, and the help beacon is dysfunctional. Her survival at this point is compounded by guilt and heartache, but with the help of an inner voice, she's able to pull herself together.

Tami makes it back to land on her own after more than a month stranded at sea. It is difficult to know how Tami would have faired if she had been a less experienced sailor. Certainly her knowledge on how to use the sextant for line of position plotting helped save her as much as anything. At least she was able to steer towards Hawaii, a small target in a large ocean. Obviously this boat also helped in her survival, since it was seaworthy enough that it withstood pitch-poling without sinking - but you can imagine the time she had wrapped in the hammock knocking about the inside of the boat. It is amazing she wasn't hurt more. Tami's inner voice kept reminding her that she was meant to live, and it does seem true with these unlikely odds.

Mixed in with the actual survival story are memories of her adventures from before and especially after meeting Richard. Although the story is compelling --- I read it in practically one sitting --- the writing style is a little annoying in its over simplicity, but I suppose it is not all that unusual for this type of book. Whether Tami and Richard really did speak the way they do in this memoir, I could have done without all the extra calling each other "love."

"It's all the flowers. The frangipani and gardenia thrive in humidity. They're the flowers of love, you know. I'll get you a lei, love."

"I'd love a lei, love."

But I guess the author is trying to convey just how "in love" she and her fiancé were. After all, in reflecting on what happened, the most that Tami can really come up in their defense of leaving during Hurricane season is that they were in love. Anyone of us who have been there can understand what she means. Somehow you do not believe anything bad can happen when those hormones are rushing around.

The book includes a few pictures scattered throughout, but more would have been welcome. Definitely missing is a map showing Hazana's course before and after the hurricane, even though the track might have been rather straightforward; it is always helpful when picturing a part of the world one isn't familiar with. But then again, this book is more inspirational than technical, thus this could explain the omission. The book does contain a glossary for those unfamiliar with nautical terms, although the way the book is written the author(s) make the experience accessible even for a novice.

Red Sky in Mourning impresses me most because this woman made it back unaided. To me this speaks highly of her skills as a sailor and to the spirit that led her to the point of this experience in the first place. Richard may be her hero for essentially saving her, but she is my hero for not only saving herself, but also having the courage to live her dreams. Despite the tragic loss of her fiancé at sea, she does not feel that either one of them would have chosen to live their life differently or would she change the way they handled the hurricane. Essentially this is not a book about regrets or bad decisions. It is about learning to accept that every individual has their own destiny and life, or God, works in mysterious ways. I am glad that Tami Oldham Ashcraft decided to share her story.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 24 reviews

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About the Author:

Tami Oldham AshcraftTami Oldham Ashcraft continues to be an avid sailor and is a 100-ton licensed captain with over 50,000 offshore miles. She lives in Friday Harbor, Washington with her husband Ed and their two young daughters.

Susea McGearhart is a freelance writer and photographer who has been sailing for over 20 years.

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