Man tells of encounter with same hurricane from the movie 'Adrift'

Man tells of encounter with same hurricane from the movie 'Adrift'
A scene of boat wreckage from the movie "Adrift." (Source: STX Entertainment)
A scene of boat wreckage from the movie "Adrift." (Source: STX Entertainment)
Chris Birchard is seen after retirement holding two king salmon. He fished for king salmon on the Crescent. (Image: Chris Birchard)
Chris Birchard is seen after retirement holding two king salmon. He fished for king salmon on the Crescent. (Image: Chris Birchard)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The movie "Adrift," tells the real-life story of a woman who navigated a hurricane-wrecked sailboat across the Pacific to Hawaii. Now another man is sharing his story of how he and his crew also escaped the same hurricane and returned to the Aloha State.

Chris Birchard was a commercial fisherman in Alaska who intended to sail to Hawaii to fish the islands and atolls up to over a thousand miles north west of Oahu. Birchard boarded The Crescent, a fishing sailboat he designed and helped build.

He set sail for Hawaii with a layover in San Francisco in October of 1983. He, a deckhand and his wife at the time, were aboard.

A few days in to his trip,  he got a weather report that a hurricane was developing to his south. It was Hurricane Raymond. Birchard then got in touch with another fisherman who had a weather fax on board.

"He daily kept me abreast of the path of Raymond, which was to the south of me and heading north west," Birchard said.

But Birchard soon lost contact with the fisherman and stopped receiving weather reports. That's when Raymond changed direction.

"Little did I know that the hurricane turned North, accelerated and headed straight for me," Birchard explained.

The day before the hurricane arrived, Birchard's boat was being confronted with 30 foot waves and 90 mph winds.

"Eventually I heard a huge roar of a breaking wave behind us.  It had to have a been a freak wave of at least 60 feet," he said.

The boat was lifted up to the wave's crest and then surfed down it's face at over 20 knots. The boat, which usually traveled about 8 knots, skipped out of the water before landing at the trough of the wave.

The hard landing caused one of the Crescent's 50-foot outrigger poles to bend and begin banging against the boat.

"It was beating in to the boat and threatening serious damage, so I had to cut it off," Birchard said.

This meant cutting through a wet, five-inch diameter pole with an electric skilsaw as the boat was thrashing about. And once the pole was cut, it was unknown where it's bottom end would go.

"Either it would impale me, put a hole in the boat or just slide on deck. I crossed my fingers, finished the cut and luckily it did the latter," Birchard said.

After strong winds pushed the Crescent backwards for about 20 more hours, Birchard was able to turn around and head back to Oahu.

Once on land it took about three weeks to fix the damaged pole, and then Birchard was back out to sea like normal. He retired in 1995 and has lived in Maui ever since.

All three people aboard the Crescent survived the ordeal, but the same cannot be said of the Hazana, the sailboat featured in the movie "Adrift."

Nearly 35 years later, the movie tells Tami Oldham Ashcraft's story of survival after the hurricane killed her fiancee and wrecked their boat.

Birchard says he and Ashcraft have been in touch and are planning to meet up this summer in Washington state. Ashcraft coincidentally lives in the town where Birchard built the Crescent.

"Small world. We'll have a lot to talk about!" he said.

"Adrift" is in theaters now.

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