Mar Pel Plata: “Mission accomplished!” That joyful declaration came from Juan Manuel Ballestero, an Argentine sailor who, unable to fly home from Portugal due to the pandemic, crossed the ocean alone in his modest sailboat to see his aging parents.
“I did it! I did it! I did it!” Ballestero exclaimed at dockside last week when he reached his hometown of Mar del Plata.
The 47-year-old had completed an exhausting 85-day odyssey in his small boat, the nine-meter (30-foot) “Skua.”
After testing negative for COVID-19 on arrival, Ballestero was cleared to set foot on dry land to see his mother 82-year-old Nilda and father Carlos, aged 90.
“I’ve achieved what I’ve been fighting for these last three months,” he said. “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.
Ballestero, who works in Spain, hatched his ambitious plan for a single-handed sea passage after flights back to Argentina were cancelled because of the pandemic.
He learned 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, seeing how the world goes on.
“There were dolphins and whales... even as humanity was passing through this difficult moment.”
For 54 long days, his family had no word from him.
“But we knew he was going to come,” said a smiling Carlos. “We had no doubt. He was coming to Mar del Plata to be with his parents.”
The coronavirus has claimed 1,000 lives in Argentina, many of them elderly people like Carlos and his wife.
The younger Ballestero’s first stop on the 12,000-kilometre trip was at Vitoria, Brazil; the last one before arrival was in La Paloma, Uruguay.
The Skua now sits docked at the Mar del Plata nautical club, and probably won’t be leaving soon. Ballestero has no immediate travel plans.