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Family of five's amazing survival - found God, but not Kiribati

by Michael Smith, Op Ed/Sail-World Cruising on 12 Aug 2013
Storm after storm after storm .. .
All sailors who go to sea have reasons - the freedom, escape from the ratrace, maybe setting a record or finding new worlds. But one family had their own unusual reason, to escape the realities of America, where they had lived in Arizona, and 'find God' by sailing to the remote islands of Kiribati. Instead, they became lost and drifted for over two months around the Pacific, their supplies gradually running out.

The Gastonguay family, including their two small children and the children's grandfather, 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 the Guardian Express 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 America'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.

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 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.

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 press 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.

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.

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.'

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