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Religious family abandons U.S., gets lost at sea

Hannah Gastonguay, holding her baby Rahab, is followed by her husband Sean and the couple’s 3-year-old daughter Ardith on Friday in the port city of San Antonio, Chile. The northern Arizona family was lost at sea for weeks in an ill-fated attempt to leave the United States.

Associated Press

Hannah Gastonguay, holding her baby Rahab, is followed by her husband Sean and the couple’s 3-year-old daughter Ardith on Friday in the port city of San Antonio, Chile. The northern Arizona family was lost at sea for weeks in an ill-fated attempt to leave the United States.

PHOENIX — A northern Arizona family that was lost at sea for weeks in an ill-fated attempt to leave the United States over what the family considers government interference in religion will fly back home today.

Hannah Gastonguay, 26, said Saturday that 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 father-in-law, and set sail from San Diego for the tiny island nation of Kiribati in May.

But 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 monthslong journey has been "pretty exciting" and "little scary at certain points," Gastonguay told the Associated Press by telephone.

She 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.

Gastonguay said her family was fed up with government control in the United States. As Christians they don't believe in "abortion, homosexuality, in the state-controlled church," she said.

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.

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.

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.

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," 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.

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

Religious family abandons U.S., gets lost at sea 08/11/13 [Last modified: Sunday, August 11, 2013 12:17am]

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