Trapped by Virus, Man Sails 5K Miles to Get to Elderly Parents

Juan Manuel Ballestero journeyed from Portugal on sailboat after flights into Argentina were canceled
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 29, 2020 10:15 AM CDT
Son Sails 85 Days to Reach Elderly Parents in Pandemic
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/mihtiander)

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Juan Manuel Ballestero was on the island of Porto Santo in Portugal, and the native Argentinian could've remained there indefinitely. But "I didn't want to stay like a coward on an island where there were no cases," Ballestero tells the New York Times. "The most important thing for me was to be with my family," including his 82-year-old mother and his father, about to turn 90. Unfortunately, all flights into his home country had been canceled, so Ballestero, a lifelong sailor who's been aboard boats since he was 3 years old (his father was a fishing vessel captain), came up with Plan B: to sail back home. In mid-March, the 47-year-old packed up his 29-foot sailboat with basic supplies and headed southwest across the Atlantic, a perilous journey that friends and officials had tried to discourage him from taking.

And it was a dangerous one, with decreasing rations of food and fuel, as well as a rogue wave that battered his boat so badly he had to make a pit stop in Vitoria, Brazil. There was also the crippling solitude: The only word he had from the outside world was the half-hour he spent each night listening to news on the radio. Then one day, he caught sight of a skua—the bird his boat is named after. "It was as if the bird was telling me not to give up," he said. He made it to his hometown of Mar del Plata on June 17, though he must quarantine on his boat for 15 days, per the AP. His father knew in his heart his son would find his way home. "The uncertainty of not knowing where he was for 50-some days was very rough," Carlos Alberto Ballestero tells the Times. "But we had no doubt this was going to turn out well." Check out Juan Ballestero's Instagram for accounts of his final leg. (More uplifting news stories.)

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