A small Christian family from Ash Fork, Arizona decided to “take a leap of faith” and were rewarded by finding God after they were lost at sea for weeks. Their amazing odyssey began with the search for more religious “freedom.” The Gastonguay family started a pilgrimage of faith that could have been deadly for them all, but their belief that the “all mighty” would protect them was, apparently warranted.
On Saturday 26 year-old Hannah Gastonguay told how she and her husband decided to take their “leap of faith” and see where “God led us.” The couple took their two small children and Hannah’s father-in-law on a journey that was meant to culminate on the tiny island nation of Kiribati in May of this year.
But instead of finding their island paradise, the family were buffeted by storms until they lost their bearings and drifted for weeks in the middle of nowhere. As their supplies dwindled and the small vessel sustained more damage, their faith never wavered and no-one on the tiny boat feared death.
The Gastonguays are not members of any church, and Hannah said that their faith and belief came from reading the Bible and through prayer. “The Bible is pretty clear,” she said.
Like our country’s pilgrim forefathers, the Gastonguay’s felt that Christian churches in America had it all wrong, and they wanted to be free from what they saw as a religious system corrupted by the government. Hannah explained that her family was fed up with what they perceived as governmental control over churches in the U.S. She said that as Christians they don’t believe in “abortion, homosexuality, [or] in the state-controlled church.”
She added that, U.S. “churches aren’t their own.” She also said that the family had issues with being forced to “pay these taxes that pay for abortions we don’t agree with.”
The family chose the tiny island of Kiribati because, “we didn’t want to go anywhere big.” Their research had disclosed that the tiny nation was “one of the least developed countries in the world.” The island country consists of a small group of islands near the equator and the international date line midway between Hawaii and Australia. The island’s population is around 100,000.
The family made their decision and moved in November, 2012 from Ash Fork, Arizona, to San Diego, California. The heavily pregnant Hannah gave birth to their youngest child, eight month-old daughter Rahab while they prepared the boat for its journey. The small family lived on board while they got vessel ready.
In May 2013, Hannah, her husband, 30-year-old Sean, the couple’s two daughters, three year-old Ardith and baby Rahab, along with Sean’s dad Mike, set sail for the tiny island.
The small Christian family would not feel land beneath their feet for 91 days, but they did find that God was protecting them whole they were lost at sea and despite the perilous nature of their pilgrimage, their faith and belief saw them through.
A few short weeks into their journey, the Gastonguay’s began to be hit by multiple storms that put them off-course and damaged their small boat. They wound up drifting at sea for weeks, stalled in their journey and hopelessly unable to proceed.
Speaking to the AP via the telephone, Hannah said how, when the journey started, they felt that, “We were cruising.” But after two weeks things changed and “when we came out there, storm, storm, storm.”
Their boat had taken a pounding from the weather and they set course for the Marquesas Islands. But they couldn’t make any real headway. The family found themselves in a “twilight zone,” with their boat suffering further damage. They were stuck.
Hannah said that they could have used a sail called a genoa, but, using it could have snapped off their mast which would have lost them the ability to communicate using the boat’s radio.
The family had been on the ocean for almost two months and their supplies were running out. They had no food and were down to “some juice and some honey.” Hannah says that they caught fish but didn’t see any other boats. She said that at no time did they fear for their lives, it “didn’t feel like we were going to die or anything. We believed God would see us through.”
They had a couple of “false starts” that pointed to rescue, a fishing ship came into contact with them but didn’t provide any help. Later a Canadian cargo ship came along and offered them supplies, but as they pulled up to the ship, the two vessels collided and their tiny ship was damaged even further.
Before they were finally rescued, Hannah said that their craft was hit by “squall after, squall, after squall.” “We were in the thick of it, but we prayed,” she added, “Being out on that boat, I just knew I was going to see some miracles.”
Despite the storms’ fury, their faith was rewarded, Hannah said, “next thing you know the sun is out. It’s amazing.”
Eventually, their boat was spotted by a helicopter from a Venezuelan fishing vessel, which then took the family on board. Hannah said, “The captain said, ‘Do you know where you’re at? You’re in the middle of nowhere!'”
After spending five days on the Venezuelan ship, they transferred to a Japanese cargo ship that took them to Chile where they are resting in a hotel in the port city of San Antonio. The Chilean newspaper Las Ultimas Noticias reported the story of their arrival.
Police prefect Jose Luis Lopez, who took the family’s statement when they arrived at San Antonio, Chile said, “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.”
It turns out that the family had a little help from a source who’s a little closer to home, Sean Gastonguay’s brother Jimmy. Jimmy, who still lives in Arizona, said he 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.
Jimmy said, “There was some concern, but we were hoping for the best, and they eventually popped up.” Once they were found, 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 added.
The small Christian family who got lost at sea and found God, have all had flights home arranged by U.S. Embassy officials. According to the Associated Press, Hannah said that their journey was, “pretty exciting” and “little scary at certain points.” Hannah also said the family will “go back to Arizona” and “come up with a new plan.”
By Michael Smith