A northern Arizona family that was lost at sea for weeks in an ill-fated attempt to leave the US over what they consider government interference in religion were due to fly back home yesterday.
Hannah Gastonguay, 26, said on 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, California, for the tiny island nation of Kiribati in May.
However, 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 were resting in a hotel in the port city of San Antonio.
Their flights home were arranged by US embassy officials, Gastonguay said.
The US Department of State was not immediately available for comment.
The months-long journey was “pretty exciting” and a “little scary at certain points,” Gastonguay said 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 US.
As Christians they don’t believe in “abortion, homosexuality, in the state-controlled church,” she said.
US “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.”
The Gastonguays were not 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 last year from Ash Fork, Arizona, 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, three-year-old Ardith and baby Rahab, set off. They would not touch land again for 91 days, she said.
She said at first, “We were cruising.”
However, 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 did not 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,” Hannah Gastonguay said.
“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.”
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, who took the family’s statement in San Antonio, told the newspaper.
Sean Gastonguay’s brother Jimmy, who lives in Arizona, said he had provided a description of the family’s vessel to the US Coast Guard and exchanged e-mails 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.
Hannah Gastonguay said the family will now “go back to Arizona” and “come up with a new plan.”
TARNISHED LEGACY: Woodrow Wilson served as the university’s president before becoming the US’ 28th leader, but his racism was ‘significant and consequential’ Princeton University is removing former US president Woodrow Wilson’s name from its public policy school and one of its residential colleges after trustees concluded that the 28th president’s “racist thinking and policies” made him “an inappropriate namesake.” The Ivy League school’s trustees made the decision on Friday, according to a statement on Saturday. It comes at a time of widespread rethinking of the US’ racial legacy. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, energized by a series of high-profile deaths of black Americans, has resulted in the removal of Confederate monuments, flags and symbols of racism across the US. Deleting Wilson’s name at Princeton
‘FULLY ENCLOSED’: Residents of Anxin County would be confined to their homes and would only be allowed out once a day to buy necessities such as food and medicine China yesterday imposed a strict lockdown on nearly half a million people near the capital to contain a fresh COVID-19 cluster as authorities warned the outbreak was still “severe and complicated.” After China largely brought the virus under control, hundreds have been infected in Beijing and cases have emerged in Hebei Province. Health officials said that Anxin County — about 150km from Beijing — would be “fully enclosed and controlled,” the same strict measures imposed at the height of the pandemic in the city of Wuhan earlier this year. Only one person from each family would be allowed to go out once a
Japan said it opposed changes to the G7 nations as it pushed back against a reform plan by US President Donald Trump that would have rival South Korea this year join in an expanded meeting. Tokyo has told the US it stands against South Korea’s participation on the grounds of differences in policy on China and North Korea, Kyodo News reported this weekend, citing more than one source related to Japanese and US diplomacy. Japan also wants to maintain its status as the only Asian country in the group, the news agency added. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga yesterday told reporters that
The onset of summer has sparked a rise in incidents of “mask rage” in South Korea as more hot and bothered commuters either refuse to wear face coverings or leave parts of their faces exposed. In South Korea, Japan and other countries in East Asia, widespread mask wearing has been cited as one possible explanation for the region’s relative success in bringing the COVID-19 pandemic under control. South Korea, one of the first countries outside China to be affected by the virus, flattened the coronavirus curve in April, although it is now struggling with dozens of daily cases, mainly in and around