Fam­ily adrift at sea saved by fish­ing ship

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - NEWS LOCAL I WORLD -

PHOENIX — A north­ern Arizona fam­ily who were lost at sea for weeks in an ill- fated at­tempt to leave the U. S. over what they con­sider govern­ment in­ter­fer­ence in re­li­gion will fly back home Sun­day.

Han­nah Gas­tonguay, 26, said Satur­day she and her hus­band “de­cided to take a leap of faith and see where God led us” when they took their two small chil­dren and her fa­therin- law and set sail from San Diego for the tiny is­land na­tion of Kiri­bati in May.

Just weeks into their jour­ney, the Gas­tonguays hit a se­ries of storms that dam­aged their small boat, leav­ing them adrift for weeks, un­able to make progress. They were even­tu­ally picked up by a Venezue­lan fish­ing ves­sel, trans­ferred to a Ja­panese cargo ship and taken to Chile where they are rest­ing in a ho­tel in the port city of San An­to­nio.

Their flights home were ar­ranged by U. S. Em­bassy of­fi­cials, Gas­tonguay said. The U. S. State Depart­ment was not im­me­di­ately avail­able for comment.

The months- long jour­ney has been “pretty ex­cit­ing” and “lit­tle scary at cer­tain points,” Gas­tonguay told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

She said they wanted to go to Kiri­bati be- cause “we didn’t want to go any­where big.” She said they un­der­stood the is­land to be “one of the least de­vel­oped coun­tries in the world.”

Kiri­bati is a group of is­lands just off the equa­tor and the in­ter­na­tional date line about halfway be­tween Hawaii and Aus­tralia. The to­tal pop­u­la­tion is just over 100,000 peo­ple of pri­mar­ily Mi­crone­sian de­scent.

Han­nah Gas­tonguay said her fam­ily was fed up with govern­ment con­trol in the U. S. As Chris­tians they don’t be­lieve in “abor­tion, ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, in the state- con­trolled church,” she said.

U. S. “churches aren’t their own,” Gas­tonguay said, sug­gest­ing govern­ment reg­u­la­tion in­ter­fered with re­li­gious in­de­pen­dence.

Among other dif­fer­ences, she said they had a prob­lem with be­ing “forced to pay th­ese taxes that pay for abor­tions we don’t agree with.”

The Gas­tonguays weren’t mem­bers of any church, and Han­nah Gas­tonguay said their faith came from read­ing the Bi­ble and through prayer. “The Bi­ble is pretty clear,” she said. The fam­ily moved in Novem­ber from Ash Fork, Ariz., to San Diego, where they lived on their boat as they pre­pared to set sail. She said she gave birth to the cou­ple’s eight- month- old girl on the boat, which was docked in a slip at the time.

In May, Han­nah, her 30- year- old hus­band Sean, his fa­ther Mike, and the cou­ple’s daugh­ters, 3- year- old Ardith and baby Ra­hab set off. They wouldn’t touch land again for 91 days, she said. She said at first, “We were cruis­ing.” But within a cou­ple of weeks “when we came out there, storm, storm, storm.”

The boat had taken a beat­ing, and they de­cided to set course for the Mar­que­sas Is­lands. In­stead, they found them­selves in a “twi­light zone,” tak­ing more and more dam­age, leav­ing them un­able to make progress.

They could have used a sail called a genoa, she said, but they risked snap­ping off the mast and los­ing their ra­dio and abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate.

They were on the ocean for about two months and were low on sup­plies. They were out of food and were down to “some juice and some honey.” She said they were able to catch fish, but they didn’t see any boats.

Still, we “didn’t feel like we were go­ing to die or any­thing. We be­lieved God would see us through,” she said.

— The As­so­ci­ated Press


Sean Gas­tonguay holds hands with his daugh­ter

Ardith as they ar­rive in San An­to­nio, Chile.

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