Adrift in the Pacific: One sailor’s incredible story of survival - Yachting World (2023)

A first solo ocean crossing became an extraordinary test for James Frederick when his rudder failed 1,000 miles from shore leaving him adrift in the Pacific

Staring down from the cockpit into the cabin of my vintage sloop I tried to imagine watching her fill with water. What would float freely first? How long would it take before her decks were awash?

I was alone and adrift 1,000 nautical miles away from the Hawaiian Islands with a broken rudder and only two choices before me. I could either figure out how to steer Triteia, my 1965 Alberg 30, or I could call for rescue and scuttle her once a cargo ship arrived.

Less than an hour before I’d been hand steering, desperately trying to get Triteia to find her course. It was our first day in the Pacific tradewinds after departing from Marina del Rey, California, bound for Hilo, Hawaii. Even allowing for the usual challenges of running with the seas and the wind, something was off, Triteia refused to hold true. I’d disengaged my old Sailomat auxiliary rudder windvane and taken the helm to try and find her groove. The winds were Force 4-5 with 2m seas.

Suddenly the tiller went completely slack in my hand, quietly falling to starboard as the boat came hard up into the wind to port. There was no sound, no dramatic event, but within seconds, as I swung the tiller back and forth with no resistance, the gravity of my situation rang loud inside my head.

I quickly furled in the headsail to slow the boat. My first thought, and hope, was that maybe the securing bolt in the tiller head had sheared off. This would have been an easy fix that I could do in an hour. Triteia is a full keel boat with a cutaway forefoot, she has a large rudder made of mahogany that runs the aft length of her keel and is attached with a bronze plate at the foot and a bent bronze tiller shaft that runs up a tube into the cockpit.

I knew the first thing I needed to do was see what was happening below the water, so I zip-tied my GoPro camera onto a seahook, hung it off the stern and pointed it the best I could at the rudder. Reviewing the footage, I could see the rudder had separated from the tiller shaft and was swinging free. The rudder is a sandwich construction with each of the hardwood planks married to one another and bound together with long bronze rods. Three of these rods had failed.

Adrift in the Pacific: One sailor’s incredible story of survival - Yachting World (1)

GoPro camera on a boathook reveals rudder damage. Photo: James Frederick/

It was clear I needed to get in the water and try and lash the rudder to prevent it from suffering any more damage. If possible, I’d run the lines up either side, giving me a means of steering the boat. I contacted one of my shore team via my Iridium Go, explained briefly what had happened and that I was about to get in the water. I did this so that if I didn’t make it back on the boat, at least one person would know what had happened to me.

I put on a wetsuit, my safety harness with two tethers attached, goggles and a snorkel and deployed my swim ladder. I also threw out a 30m long line with knots tied in it every few metres and a float at the end as a last resort in case I became disconnected from the boat. With all sails down, the boat pitched and rolled, and even with no canvas up still sailed at 1.5 knots, causing me to be pulled taut on the tethers as I dragged through the water.

(Video) Yachting World Magazine; Adrift in the Pacific - An Article About My Loss of Steering In The Pacific

I held onto the starboard quarter and stared at the rudder for a while. I could see a large chunk on the trailing edge had been dislodged, light visible through the cracks. The rudder swung freely, held on only by the bronze foot and a pintle and gudgeon. The boat’s rolling motion was my greatest concern, I worried about being knocked out and drowning. I tried diving under the hull to feed a line through the cut-out hole in the rudder which houses the propeller, but I was pulled taught on my tether behind the boat with each dive attempt, never getting close enough to touch the rudder, let alone wrap a line around it.

After what felt like an eternity but had only been 10 minutes in the water, I climbed back aboard exhausted. Sitting in the cockpit, dejected and soaking wet, I tried to gather my thoughts. This is when I had the terrible vision of watching my boat – my home, my dreams, and all of my worldly belongings – sink into the Pacific Ocean. I decided that there was only one option; I would figure out how to steer Triteia one way or another.

Adrift in the Pacific: One sailor’s incredible story of survival - Yachting World (2)

James Frederick was sailing his 30-footer solo from California to Hawaii when the rudder failed. Photo: James Frederick/

Rolling in the deep

I dug out the bright orange rigid plastic drogue known as a Sea Squid from my aft cockpit locker, tied it to a long line and tossed it into the sea to slow my progress, which, without steering, was due south. I raised the main to the second reef to try and stabilise the boat while also limiting the distance we’d cover overnight. Then I went down below to think about my next steps.

I realised that I needed to slow myself down and stay calm: getting frantic could lead to accident, injury or even death. I was also aware that I needed to conserve my strength and not get seasick; a very real possibility with the yacht’s new motion.

I took a Dramamine and ate a simple dinner. After dinner I turned in early, but the sounds of Triteia taking seas on the beam and constantly trying to run into the wind were unnerving. I plugged in my headphones and listened to Duke Ellington to try and drown out the chaos.

Adrift in the Pacific: One sailor’s incredible story of survival - Yachting World (3)

By now other members of my shore team had started to make contact, concerned as to what was happening because of the dramatic turn on my satellite tracker page. My shore team consisted of two of my brothers, David and Colby, my long-time friend Sarah, and Captain Noah Peffer and Captain David Stovall. I let them all know the situation and updated my tracker blog.

After a restless night, by morning the winds were blowing 22 knots and the seas had increased. I pulled all of my scuba gear out of the lockers, hoping that if I didn’t have to hold my breath, I would be able to pull myself under the boat slowly and get the line attached.

After dropping all sail again, I tied a line to my scuba vest and tank, inflated it and tossed it into the water. I then tied a longer tether to my harness, that would hopefully allow me to reach under the boat, and climbed back into the sea. The ship’s motion was even more violent now with the higher winds and bigger seas. I fought my way into the scuba BCD and was instantly being tugged behind the boat.

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The drag of the scuba gear was not something I’d considered, and it was hard work to pull myself back to the boat hand over hand on the tethers. I held onto the starboard quarters toerail with all of my strength, and soon felt my arm muscles strain. This was my only moment of genuine fear: thinking what if I can’t pull myself back onto the boat? I quickly shed my scuba vest and struggled to the ladder and back on the boat. Using the last of my strength I pulled the gear, including the 65lb steel tank, back on board before collapsing in the cockpit.

Adrift in the Pacific: One sailor’s incredible story of survival - Yachting World (4)

No steerage and 1,000 miles from land… how can that problem be solved? Photo: James Frederick/

My second night adrift and running with the wind and waves was similar to the first, but the new day brought more of the same conditions and I didn’t even consider trying to dive again. Instead I decided to try Captain Peffer and Captain Stovall’s suggestion of trying to steer the boat by drogue. I’d never even heard of the technique before, but it appeared to be my only hope.

I’d found my drogue in the dumpster of a marina in Los Angeles and had very nearly got rid of it when trying to declutter Triteia before we set off. I kept it because I intended to sail to Alaska from Hawaii and, having crewed on yacht deliveries in the Pacific Northwest, knew how big the seas could get in those latitudes.

Adrift in the Pacific: One sailor’s incredible story of survival - Yachting World (5)

Drogue originally found in a skip was the answer. Photo: James Frederick/

Jury steering

Stovall and Peffer started sending me instructions on ways I could approach the set up. I took my spinnaker pole and lashed it sideways on the aft deck braced against the stern pulpit, then took snatch blocks and attached them amidships. The longest lines I had on the boat were my spinnaker sheets, so I ran them forward through the blocks then aft through the ends of the spinnaker pole and onto the aft deck.

I tied each of the lines from both sides to the eyelet on the end of the drogue and added several zip ties to the tail of each bowline to make sure they would stay tight. After triple checking the set up I finally deployed the drogue: it trailed behind the boat and seemed to do nothing. I paid out most of the line to get it well aft… and still no effect.

After an hour of experimenting, Stovall texted to suggest I add a piece of chain or weight to the end of the drogue to try and submerge it more. I hauled the drogue back in and lashed a 4lb scuba weight to the eyelet before tossing it back into the sea.

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This made a huge difference, and I could actually start to see the boat respond as I pulled the drogue from one side to the other. But after another couple of hours of trying, I still could not get the boat to sail on the course we needed to hit the Hawaiian Islands.

Peffer messaged me: “Do you have your main up? If so, drop it and only sail with your headsail.” I was hesitant to drop the mainsail because I knew the yacht’s motion would be horrible, but was desperate to find a way to gain steerage. I dropped the main and, with about 90% of my headsail unfurled and drawing, was easily able to get Triteia on course. I couldn’t actually believe it was working, but soon started receiving texts from my team congratulating me, “YOU DID IT!” as they could see my course alter on the satellite tracker.

It took me a few days to slowly figure out how to carry more sail and tune the drogue and windvane together to be able to make between 3-4 knots of boatspeed. As I paid out more headsail or as the winds increased, I’d need to bring the drogue closer into the weather side of the ship. The drogue steering works in a similar way to paddling a canoe: if you place your paddle in the water and hold it still the bow of your canoe will turn in whichever direction the paddle is on, this is exactly how the drogue works.

I could probably have carried even more sail if I’d eliminated the spinnaker pole from the setup and been able to bring the drogue closer to amidships. But the spinnaker pole was necessary to keep the control lines out from under my windvane paddle; I’d learned this the hard way during the initial setup experiments when I tried deploying the drogue without the pole.

Adrift in the Pacific: One sailor’s incredible story of survival - Yachting World (6)

Athwartships-lashed spinnaker pole kept drogue lines clear of the self-steering gear. Photo: James Frederick/

One of the lines hooked under the windvane and when the drogue loaded up, threatened to damage and disable the windvane. I also could have sailed wing-on-wing with a reefed main, but since I was solo, in a vulnerable situation 1,000 miles from land, I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks and didn’t mind making slow and safe progress.

My biggest fear in the first few days was rounding up and pointing in the opposite direction, how would I turn back onto the correct course?
When it inevitably did happen I solved it by attaching my roll stabiliser, the ‘Rocker Stopper’, overboard amidships. The boat instantly came about and got back onto her correct heading.

Adrift in the Pacific: One sailor’s incredible story of survival - Yachting World (7)

The drogue deployed. Photo: James Frederick/

(Video) Lost at sea: Sailboat captain shares amazing story of survival

Hawaii landfall

Triteia and I sailed on at this slow but steady pace for 18 days. With each passing day, as well as each passing squall, I gained confidence in the system and was able to relax and get back into my regular routines of ocean sailing. Solo sailing can leave you with almost too much time alone with your own thoughts, so I tend to spend my days on passage reading, writing and editing video.

As the days turned into nights followed by beautiful sunrises, life at sea often feels as if time has stood still but then suddenly, as we approach landfall, the passages seem to have flown by.

Adrift in the Pacific: One sailor’s incredible story of survival - Yachting World (8)

Progress under drogue steering was slow but steady. Photo: James Frederick/

On September 12, after 31 days at sea, I spotted the island of Molokai and howled with delight until my throat was sore. The silhouette of the island was obscured until I was just 41 miles away. I was overwhelmed with joy and relief and for the first time since the rudder had failed knew it was all going to be OK.

However, our perilous situation wasn’t yet over. The channels between the Hawaiian Islands are notoriously dangerous because they create bottlenecks of winds and currents that can create deadly conditions. I had the good fortune of arriving in daylight, with very mellow tradewinds blowing and relatively calm – for Hawaii – seas running at 3m with a long period between the swells, but with no steerage I was nervous to safely make landfall.

Adrift in the Pacific: One sailor’s incredible story of survival - Yachting World (9)

End of passage, a tow into Waikiki. Photo: James Frederick/

Approaching the Kaiwi Channel that separates the islands of Oahu and Molokai, I called in to request a tow, only to discover there was no towboat available. However, when I started my engine I discovered my drogue steering setup also worked well under power, so was able to make my own way around Oahu’s famous Diamondhead volcanic crater. Once in phone range, I messaged a contact on the island, Captain Mike LaRose, who sent me coordinates for a suitable anchorage off of Waikiki to await assistance, and later his team came to tow me in by powerboat after dropping their last snorkel clients of the day.

By sunset I was stepping off Triteia for the first time in a month, after 2,300 miles. My shaky legs and pounding heart left me laying flat on my back on the dock. With both relief and disbelief I stared up at the skies above Honolulu. Neptune had really made me earn my first solo ocean passage.

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Watch the video

James Frederick is solo circumnavigating west about and is currently in New Zealand. He shares his adventures through weekly videos on his YouTube channel Sailing Triteia, including footage of him demonstrating the drogue steering technique, and on his Instagram page

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Who was the girl adrift for 41 days? ›

Tami Lee Oldham Ashcraft (née Oldham) is an American sailor and author who, in 1983, survived 41 days adrift in the Pacific Ocean. Her story inspired the 2018 film Adrift.

Who owns the Hazana boat? ›

It was September 1983 when the two young sailors embarked on what they imagined to be a routine delivery for the Hazana's British owners, Peter and Christine Compton.

Did they ever find Richard's body from Adrift? ›

Richard's body was never found, but Tami took his belongings to his parents back in England. She settled in Washington state and in 1994 married property developer Ed Ashcraft.

How long were they lost at sea in Adrift? ›

Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost At Sea is a 1986 memoir by Steven Callahan about his survival alone in a life raft in the Atlantic Ocean, which lasted 76 days.

Does Adrift have sharks? ›

Newsflash: there are no sharks or any sort of danger in the water.

What was the real boat from Adrift? ›

In September 1983, 23-year-old Ashcraft and her fiancé, Sharp, took a job sailing the yacht Hazana to San Diego, a journey of more than 4,000 miles. Less than three weeks into the trip, Ashcraft and Sharp encountered Hurricane Raymond, which produced 40-foot waves and 140-mph winds.

What happened to the owners of Hazana? ›

Ashcraft eventually settled in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. The Hazana was purchased, salvaged and restored, and now is kept in the Waikiki Yacht Harbor. The Kandells and Woodley went for a sail on the restored boat last month.

Does the baby survive in Adrift? ›

Amy dives back in after him to save his life. The next morning a fishing boat pulls aside the sailboat. He looks for survivors but sees none and then he hears a baby crying. Amy and Dan both died at sea, but her baby survived.

Did they both survive in Adrift? ›

Despite it seeming as such, Richard doesn't actually survive in the movie — his presence is merely the physical manifestation of a voice in Tami's head. At the end of the film, the audience realizes that the badly injured sailor is never going to get better because he isn't real.

What is the movie where swimmers can't get back on the boat? ›

Open Water 2: Adrift (also known simply as Adrift or Open Water 2) is a 2006 German English-language psychological horror thriller film Directed by Hans Horn, starring Eric Dane, Susan May Pratt, Richard Speight, Jr., Niklaus Lange, Ali Hillis, and Cameron Richardson.

What is the longest someone has survived at sea without a raft? ›

José Salvador Alvarenga holds the record for the longest solo survival at sea. He was adrift for 438 days, and traveled over 6,700 miles. Alvarenga is a fisherman, and on November 17, 2012, he set sail from the fishing village of Costa Azul in Mexico.

What is the longest time spent lost at sea? ›

The longest known time which anyone has survived adrift at sea is approximately 484 days, by the Japanese Captain Oguri Jukichi and one of his sailors Otokichi.

What is the longest time survived at sea in water? ›

Japanese captain Oguri Jukichi holds the Guinness World Record for the longest known time that anyone has survived adrift at sea. Joined by one of his sailors, the skipper managed to survive for approximately 484 days after their cargo ship was damaged in a storm off the Japanese coast in October 1813.

What boat sank in shark Infested Waters? ›

The Navy only learned of the sinking four days later, when survivors were spotted by the crew of a PV-1 Ventura on routine patrol. A US Navy PBY seaplane crew landed to save those in the water. Only 316 survived.
USS Indianapolis (CA-35)
United States
Laid down31 March 1930
Launched7 November 1931
Sponsored byLucy M. Taggart
31 more rows

Is it safe to dive with white sharks? ›

No, you can't. Swimming with great whites is inherently dangerous. These are large and powerful predators who have eaten people in the past. While they are not as dangerous as films and popular-culture might have you believe, they are also not safe animals to be around without adequate protection.

Has a shark ever been found in a river? ›

While it is not typical, there are some instances where bull sharks have been spotted in freshwater sources such as lakes and rivers. This usually happens when they become trapped after swimming into the area through an opening connecting to saltwater.

How big were the waves in Adrift? ›

20 days into the journey, they were caught in a Category 4 hurricane, bringing with it 15m waves and 150mph winds.

Was the ship in Adrift a hallucination? ›

Tami realizes that the injured Richard on board Hazaña was nothing but a hallucination and surrenders to the reality that Richard was lost at sea.

How did Adrift end? ›

But before you can say "Hollywood ending," Adrift reveals that Sharp isn't alive, but a vivid part of Oldham's imagination. Sharp was swept to his death at sea during the hurricane, just as Oldham described in her 1998 account Red Sky in Mourning: A True Story of Love, Loss and Survival at Sea.

How much of Adrift is true? ›

Adrift (2018) is indeed based on a true story. The film is an adaptation of the 1998 book Adrift: A True Story of Love, Loss and Survival at Sea written by Tami Oldham Ashcraft herself. In September 1983, the future looked bright and beaming for Tami Oldham Ashcraft, a 23-year-old American girl.

What is the plot of Adrift? ›

Do they make it to Hawaii in Adrift? ›

Despite scarce rations and serious injuries, Ashcraft made it to Hilo Harbor 41 days later.

Who was the little girl found Adrift at sea in 1961? ›

Terry Jo's survival led to her becoming known within international media as the "Sea Waif" and the "Sea Orphan".
Bluebelle (ship)
Out of serviceNovember 12, 1961
HomeportBahia Mar Marina
FateScuttled November 12, 1961
General characteristics
10 more rows

Who was the girl found Adrift at sea in 1961? ›

Due to a murderous plot, 11-year old Terry Jo Duperrault spent 84 grueling hours alone at sea until she was rescued. In 1961, a picture was snapped of a young girl who was discovered adrift, alone, on a small lifeboat in the waters of the Bahamas.

Who was the woman who sailed into a hurricane? ›

Adrift: Surviving a hurricane at sea. In September 1983, 23-year-old American sailor Tami Oldham Ashcraft set to sea for a 31-day crossing from Tahiti to San Diego, California. She was with her British fiancé Richard Sharp, and delivering luxury yacht, Hazana.

Who was the boy who was found at sea? ›

A Florida family leapt into action after learning that one of their own had gone missing at sea — and a now-viral video captured their ecstatic reaction when they spotted him in the water and were able to rescue him. Dylan Gartenmayer, 22, was free diving near Key West on Jan.

What happened in Florida in 1961? ›

On Friday, May 5, 1961, a strong tornado impacted the city of St. Petersburg, Florida. The tornado, which only touched down briefly, was estimated to have produced F2 damage on the Fujita scale. It struck the Northeast High School and the nearby Meadowlawn neighborhood in the extreme northern part of St.

Is Terry Jo still alive? ›

At first, people believed his story. But, a few days later, on learning that Terry Jo had survived to tell the true story, he committed suicide.

Who were the sailors rescued after 10 days adrift in the Atlantic? ›

No fuel, no mast, no water: Cape May sailors rescued after 10 days lost at sea describe ordeal. NEW YORK — Two men who went missing in the Atlantic Ocean for 10 days after a storm hit their sailboat off North Carolina thanked the crew of the tanker that rescued them and said they were lucky to have survived.

Did they film Adrift in the Ocean? ›

In order to bring that survival instinct out in Woodley and Claflin, Kormakur made the decision to film the movie on the open ocean off the coast of Fiji. The crew took advantage of choppier days to film the pre- and post-capsize scenes, while calmer waters suited the romantic, happier moments, Claflin said.

What was the name of the boat in adrift? ›

The rhyme they say about weather forescasting is: "Red sky at night, sailors' delight./ Red sky at morning, sailors take warning." The boat's name is Hazaña, which is Spanish for "exploit", "deed", or "achievement".

Who was the unluckiest woman hurricanes? ›

After losing four houses to four hurricanes Melanie Martinez was arguably America's unluckiest woman. There was Betsy in 1965, Juan in 1985, George in 1998 and Katrina in 2005, ferocious storms that swept in from the Gulf of Mexico and wrecked each of Martinez's homes.

Who was the baby boy born during hurricane? ›

Amanda Mahr gave birth to a son via a C-Section in Cape Coral, Florida, shortly before Hurricane Ian's winds reached 150 miles per hour. Amanda and Matthew Mahr were excited about the arrival of their first baby, but Hurricane Ian radically changed the course of their birthing experience.

What was the deadliest hurricane in history? ›

Galveston, Texas Hurricane of 1900

Considered the deadliest U.S. natural disaster, the Category 4 hurricane in Galveston, Texas, destroyed more than 3,600 buildings with 135 mph winds, according to the History Channel.

Who survived the longest Adrift at sea? ›

José Salvador Alvarenga holds the record for the longest solo survival at sea. He was adrift for 438 days, and traveled over 6,700 miles.


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