U.S. Family Seeking Religious Freedom Abroad Is Rescued in Pacific Ocean

The Gastonguays had set sail in May for the island nation of Kiribati, but got lost

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Hannah Gastonguay, holding her baby Rahab, is followed by her husband Sean and the couple's 3-year-old daughter Ardith, as they disembark in the port city of San Antonio, Chile on Friday, Aug. 9.

Since the 17th century, America has been a prominent destination for those seeking religious freedom, but at least one Arizona family recently decided true religious independence could be more easily found in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Hannah Gastonguay, her husband Sean, his father Mike and their two small children set sail from San Diego for the island nation of Kiribati in May, only to be lost at sea for weeks before being rescued by a Venezuelan fishing vessel. The group, which left the U.S. due to perceived government interference in religion, finally made landfall in Chile on Friday, 91 days after leaving San Diego.

According to the Associated Press, Hannah Gastonguay said that her family—all Christians—doesn’t believe in “abortion, homosexuality, in the state-controlled church.” They chose Kiribati, a group of islands midway between Australia and Hawaii with a population of just over 100,000, because of its limited population and reputation as a relatively underdeveloped country.

Though their voyage across the Pacific began with few difficulties, the Gastonguays were inundated with storms within a few weeks of leaving San Diego. They attempted to change course for the Marquesas Islands, but the beating their boat had sustained made progress nearly impossible. Making matters worse, supplies were running dangerously low after two months on the open sea—Hannah Gastonguay said they were out of food and resorted to subsisting on juice, honey and whatever fish they were able to catch.

Salvation finally arrived in the form of a helicopter that had taken off from the Venezuelan fishing vessel. The family spent five days on the vessel before being transferred to a Japanese cargo ship, which hosted the Gastonguays for three weeks before making port in Chile.  Mauricio Arandeda, governor of Chile’s San Antonio province, had a simple explanation for the family’s troubles at sea, saying they “had zero knowledge and experience in navigation.”

The Gastonguays were expected to arrive back in the U.S. on Sunday, and Hannah indicated they would return to Arizona before charting a new course of action.