MAR DEL PLATA (Argentina) • “Mission accomplished!”
That joyful declaration came from Mr Juan Manuel Ballestero, a 47-year-old Argentinian sailor who, unable to fly home from Portugal due to the coronavirus pandemic, crossed the ocean alone in his modest sailboat to see his ageing parents.
“I did it!” he exclaimed last week when he reached his hometown of Mar del Plata, after completing an exhausting 85-day odyssey in his boat, the 9m Skua.
After testing negative for Covid-19 on arrival, Mr Ballestero was cleared to set foot on dry land to see his 82-year-old mother Nilda and father Carlos, 90.
“I’ve achieved what I’ve been fighting for these last three months,” he told Agence France-Presse.
“It came down to this: to be with the family. That’s why I came.”
He had hoped to arrive in Argentina by May 15, for his father’s 90th birthday. He missed that date, but instead was able to celebrate Father’s Day with his family.
Mr Ballestero, who works in Spain, hatched his ambitious plan for a single-handed sea passage after flights to Argentina were cancelled because of the pandemic.
He learnt during the long trip home that “people were dying every day, by the thousands”, a jarring realisation at a time when he was “in the middle of nature”.
“There were dolphins and whales… even as humanity was passing through this difficult moment,” he said.
For 54 long days, his family heard no word from him.
“But we knew he was going to come,” said a smiling Mr Carlos Ballestero . “We had no doubt.”
The Skua is docked at the Mar del Plata nautical club, and probably will not be leaving soon.
Mr Ballestero has no immediate travel plans.