Carlos Alberto Ballestero turned 90 years old in May and his son Juan Manuel didn't want to miss it for the world, even if he had to sail across the Atlantic Ocean.
Juan Manuel Ballestero, a 47-year-old sailor, was on the tiny Portuguese island of Porto Santo when the whole world went into lockdown due to the ongoing public health crisis. He could have chosen to stay sheltered on the island (where there wasn't a single reported case) but the thought of spending what seemed like the "end of the world" without his family—who were all back in his home country Argentina—was absurd to him. To add to that, his father was just about to turn 90 years old. With all international flights non-operational, he set out the only way he knew how: by sailing across the Atlantic for 85 days, The Washington Post reports.
After loading his 29-foot sailboat with canned tuna, fruit, and rice, he set sail for Argentina in mid-March. "I didn’t want to stay like a coward on an island where there were no cases," he said. "I wanted to do everything possible to return home. The most important thing for me was to be with my family." Ballestero was resolute even though the authorities in Portugal warned him that he may not be able to return if he sets out (yes, even if he sailed into trouble and had to turn back). The sailor bravely affirmed, "I bought myself a one-way ticket and there was no going back." His family, who knew him well, also knew that it would be pointless to try to dissuade him.
"The uncertainty of not knowing where he was for 50-some days was very rough," his father Carlos Alberto Ballestero explained. "But we had no doubt this was going to turn out well." Though Ballestero is a skilled sailor, the journey was challenging at best. It was even more difficult owing to the pandemic—a fact he became aware of three weeks into the trip. When he tried to dock in Cape Verde to restock on fuel and food, authorities refused to let him do so. Therefore, he set out west, hoping that he would make it through the journey. He shared, "I wasn’t afraid, but I did have a lot of uncertainty. It was very strange to sail in the middle of a pandemic with humanity teetering around me. I kept thinking about whether this would be my last trip."
Every night, he would listen to the news to keep track of how the virus was affecting the world. It was a lonely experience. "I was locked up in my own freedom," the sailor said. "Faith keeps you standing in these situations. I learned about myself; this voyage gave me lots of humility." Eventually, Ballestero, who used to be a fisherman, found it difficult to kill a fish he had caught on the journey when he had tired of eating canned food. "I didn’t want to kill one, it felt like killing a person," he confessed. "I used to be a fisherman but after that experience, it’s hard for me to kill now." Thankfully, on June 17, he made it to his home in Mar del Plata.
He was shocked by the "hero's welcome" that he received. He said, "Entering my port where my father had his sailboat, where he taught me so many things and where I learned how to sail and where all this originated, gave me the taste of a mission accomplished." A medical professional administered a test and, after 72 hours, it came back negative. He was then allowed to step foot on Argentine soil. He couldn't celebrate his father's 90th birthday, but he made it home just in time to celebrate Father's Day. "What I lived is a dream," Ballestero affirmed. "But I have a strong desire to keep on sailing."