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Observations placeholder

The true-life story of Adrift



Type of Spiritual Experience


Number of hallucinations: 2


A description of the experience

The Telegraph

The true-life story of Adrift

Adam Smith
8 June 2018 • 4:00pm 
Now a major film and in cinemas from 29 June, Adrift is an amazing tale of courage and the will to survive in the face of seemingly impossible odds
There are few forces on Earth more powerful or deadly than a Category 4 hurricane. These storms can stretch for hundreds of miles over the ocean. At its centre a category 4 generates winds of nearly 200kmph and waves more than a hundred feet in height. The typical energy discharged over the lifetime of one of these storms is equivalent to more than 10,000 nuclear bombs. They have sunk fully-laden cargo vessels, devastated coastal communities and killed tens of thousands. They are, in short, terrifying.

And in September 1983, 23 year-old Californian Tami Oldham found herself aboard her tiny boat with British fiancé Richard Sharp, right in the middle of one.

Her voyage had started off well enough. Oldham was gaining experience as a sailor. She had travelled to Mexico directly after graduating high school and, on a whim, had joined a crew sailing to New Zealand. The high seas had been a part of her life ever since.

Tami met Richard in Tahiti, and they spent six months together sailing their own boat, but were then hired to deliver a luxury yacht, the Hazana, by friends of Richard. The plan was to sail from Tahiti to San Diego, a 4,000-mile trip. But two weeks into the voyage they heard on the radio of a rapidly developing storm that lay directly on the Hazana’s planned route. Despite trying to outrun it by changing course, what was by now Hurricane Raymond also unexpectedly changed direction, and the young adventurers found themselves sailing directly into the heart of the Category 4 hurricane.

The Hazana was battered by 40-foot waves and, while making the boat watertight, Oldham was flung into the hold, knocked unconscious and only awoke, groggy, weak from blood loss from a gash in her forehead and in agonizing pain, 27 hours later. Though the storm had abated the luxury yacht was now a wreck. Its radio and electronic instruments were all destroyed. While there was canned food and water in the hold, the only navigational tool left was a traditional sextant.

The next six weeks were a gruelling battle for survival. Having managed to rig a makeshift sail, hallucinations began to set in – including an island thought to be Hawaii appearing on the horizon one day, only to disappear the next. A tiny plane failed to spot the boat – if ever it had been in the sky at all.

In one of the story’s darkest moments, convinced that a rescue would never come, Oldham grabbed a loaded rifle and put the barrel in her mouth. “The story was so rich and had so much depth to its truth,” says Woodley of her role. “I wanted to make sure we were honestly depicting what happened.”

Starring Shailene Woodley (Big Little Lies, The Fault In Our Stars) as Oldham and Britain’s Sam Claflin (Journey’s End, Me Before You) as her partner Richard, Adrift is an astonishing and inspiring story of courage and survival in the face of gruelling conditions. And it’s one that, thankfully, we can experience from the warm, dry comfort of our local cinema.


The source of the experience

Ordinary person

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps