Fishing vessel rescues Arizona family lost at sea

Couple with two children set out in small boat to escape government control of religion
Associated Press
Aug 11, 2013


A northern Arizona family has survived being lost at sea for weeks after an ill-fated attempt to leave the U.S. over what they consider government interference in religion.

Hannah Gastonguay and her family will fly back home Sunday after taking their two small children and her father-in-law and setting sail from San Diego for the tiny island nation of Kiribati in May.

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.

Their flights home were arranged by U.S. Embassy officials, Gastonguay said. The U.S. State Department declined to comment on Sunday.

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

The 26-year-old mother said they wanted to go to Kiribati because "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 that 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." While federal law bars public funding for abortion, state attempts to block Medicaid funding for organizations that provide the procedure have met with legal hurdles. Opponents say that funding allows those groups to perform abortions.

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 8-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 had been 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.

At one point a fishing ship came into contact with them but left without providing assistance. A Canadian cargo ship came along and offered supplies, but when they pulled up alongside it, the vessels bumped and the smaller ship sustained even more damage.

They were getting hit by "squall after, squall, after squall."

"We were in the thick of it, but we prayed," she said. "Being out on that boat, I just knew I was going to see some miracles."

They watched the surrounding storms disperse, and "next thing you know the sun is out. It's amazing."

Eventually, their boat was spotted by a helicopter that had taken off from a nearby Venezuelan fishing vessel, which ended up saving them.

"The captain said, 'Do you know where you're at? You're in the middle of nowhere,'" she said.

They were on the Venezuelan ship for about five days before transferring to the Japanese cargo ship, where they were for nearly three weeks before landing in Chile on Friday. The Chilean newspaper Las Ultimas Noticias reported the story of their arrival.

"They were looking for a kind of adventure. They wanted to live on a Polynesian island but they didn't have sufficient expertise to navigate adequately," police prefect Jose Luis Lopez told the newspaper. Lopez took the family's statement in San Antonio, Chile, where the Japanese ship had dropped off the family.

Mauricio Araneda, the governor in Chile's San Antonio province, told the AP that the family "had zero knowledge and experience in navigation."

Sean Gastonguay's brother Jimmy, who lives in Arizona, said he had provided a description of the family's vessel to the U.S. Coast Guard and exchanged emails with them once they were picked up by the first boat.

"There was some concern, but we were hoping for the best, and they eventually popped up," he said. He was able to keep track of the family with the help of the Coast Guard as they were transferred from ship to ship.

"We're all happy. We have good peace of mind now," he said.

Hannah Gastonguay said the family will now "go back to Arizona" and "come up with a new plan."




So let them go! This is a free country, don't let the doorknob hit you!




Pretty interesting, instead of complaining and venting on blogs (like that accomplishes anything) this family took action. Might not be something I would do, but I admire their conviction


What kind of idiots drag a three year old and a baby out to sea? I think those children should be taken away from them since the parents can't seen to make good decisions on how to raise them.

2cents's picture

LOL, I was three weeks old hanging in a basinet down below from the hand rails!


From one civilized human being commenting on the safety of others...

Glad they're OK


no room at westboro for these crazies?


If she would've had an abortion then there would have only been one child. Oh wait, no concern until the baby was born? Just maybe they couldn't stand to be around an more abortions. Ready to die for what they believe.


Ready to allow their children to DIE for what they believe? I see no difference. No do not put your CHILDREN in harms way for a belief. You protect your children at all cost. I am sorry they should be charged with child endangerment. Die for yourself, do not subject your CHILDREN to it. Just like an abortion, they are the innocent ones....they did NOT choose to be there.

Stop It

The whole class gets an F today.

The baby was born a US citizen, then they left.

2cents's picture

They should have sold the boat and bought plane tickets : )

dorothy gale

"Amazing" to see the sun after a storm? Isn't that a natural occurrence? smdh.

The Answer Person

Send them to Iraq.

The Answer Person

God had a plan for them. Too bad they didn't follow it.


Wow, amazed that you would know God's plan for someone you've never met. Maybe they did follow it. How could YOU possibly know?


I just wonder if they would have been adrift for a couple more months, which of them would have been willing to sacrifice his or her self for the others to eat? Or, would they have just eaten one of the kids knowing they could always make another one? :}

doggie mom

I admire them taking steps to live as they want but, when will people just mind there own? Why is it I have to live how you want and you have to live by someone else? If we all just took into consideration others and held some respect for others it wouldn't be so bad. They were worried about how their taxes were spent are they ok mine were spent rescuing them? Had they sunk what would it have mattered what their convictions one would have known.


Agree with you...why do we need to pay to rescue them? How much of our money was spent to go get them? It is a never ending cycle.


I can't be mad at them. They left for the same reason our founding father George Washington and generations came to America. To practice their religion. Not yours or mines but theirs. I don't care that my taxes helped rescue them. That's why I pay them. Big deal. That money didn't change my IRA or my paycheck.


They did no such thing. They left for a place with less religious freedom, but with rules they like better.


Kiribati goes a little beyond banning tax money for abortions. A woman who causes herself to abort gets life in prison. Other than abortion policies, the place is pretty liberal. The dominant church is Catholic. Did she say she was going there for freedom of religion?

... "when we came out there, storm, storm, storm." Lady, can you take a hint? Ya think maybe God took care of you by turning you back?

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

I am glad they are safe and hopefully have learned a lesson from the ordeal. If only they spent that time and money working locally (and beyond) to affect change they could have helped not just themselves, but others.

"THEY DUN TUHK UUR JERBS!" only works for so long until you become the cartoon in which this originated. Drawing attention without action is a waste of time, trust, energy, and money.

Stop It

"ah hate you guys..."