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Thursday, 2 July 2020

Man, 47, spent nearly three months sailing solo across the Atlantic to reunite with his parents in Argentina after flights from Europe were cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic

Trapped in Europe with air travel shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, Juan Manuel Ballestero had just one option to return to his native Argentina to be home with his parents - sailing solo across the Atlantic.
The 47-year-old did just that, sailing from Portugal on his 29-foot boat during a nearly three-month odyssey that included battling storms, dangerous waves and even fending off what he thought were pirates off Africa's coast.  
Now in his hometown of Mar del Plata, where he arrived June 17, the Argentine man said he planned the trip in just 24 hours after learning that flights to his home country had been canceled amid lockdown measures to curb the spread of the deadly bug.
'I wanted to be with them,' Ballestero said.
Juan Manuel Ballestero stands on his boat in Mar del Plata, Argentina, on June 18, a day after he docked in his native country after sailing across the Atlantic for 85 days so that he could reunite with his parents during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic
Juan Manuel Ballestero stands on his boat in Mar del Plata, Argentina, on June 18, a day after he docked in his native country after sailing across the Atlantic for 85 days so that he could reunite with his parents during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic
Juan Manuel Ballestero (right) with his father, Carlos Ballestero (left) and his brother (center)
Juan Manuel Ballestero (right) with his father, Carlos Ballestero (left) and his brother (center)
The 47-year-old man feared he was going to have to fire his weapon while he was sailing off the coast of Cape Verde and thought he was being chased by pirates
The 47-year-old man feared he was going to have to fire his weapon while he was sailing off the coast of Cape Verde and thought he was being chased by pirates 

But after arriving from his three-month voyage, the lifelong sailor still had to wait in quarantine before being reunited with his mother, Nilda Gómez, 82, and his father, Carlos Ballestero, who turned 90 in the midst of the cross-Atlantic journey. 
Ballestero, who lives in Spain, was in the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira when the local government of Spain and Argentina issued strict lockdown measures and closed off their borders to the rest of the world. 
He grabbed the 200 euros he had saved, loaded his sailboat 'Skua' with at least 160 cans of food and a bottle of whiskey, and set sail from Porto Santo, which had not yet been heavily affected by the pandemic.
Ballestero said fearsome storms threatened along the journey and he almost lost his life off the coast of Brazil when he encountered heavy winds and waves that tossed the small boat around. Nor was it easy to navigate the Río de la Plata river that leads to Mar del Plata, he said.
Man sails for three months across Atlantic to reunite with parents

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Juan Manuel Ballestero said he had only 200 euros when he decided to depart from Porto Santo, Portugal, and sail to Argentina to be with his parents in March. He loaded his sailboat 'Skua' with at least 160 cans of food and a bottle of whiskey
Juan Manuel Ballestero said he had only 200 euros when he decided to depart from Porto Santo, Portugal, and sail to Argentina to be with his parents in March. He loaded his sailboat 'Skua' with at least 160 cans of food and a bottle of whiskey
Juan Manuel Ballestero is tested for the coronavirus by a medical worker in Argentina
Juan Manuel Ballestero is tested for the coronavirus by a medical worker in Argentina 
'Now I am calm, anchored here in the middle of this port,' the experienced sailor said. 'There is no storm to bother me or boat to run me over.'
Though in Argentina, he must remain on his sailboat for a 15-day quarantine which is set to expire this week. He has been unable to touch his parents, though they are in constant communication.
Ballestero said he made the journey because he was sure the pandemic and lockdown measures were going to be in place for a long time and he wanted to be with his family.
Ideally, he would have liked to be back in time to celebrate his father's 90th birthday May 15, he said.
'I came to my home. It is human,' said Ballestero, who has fished in Alaska and the South Atlantic, and served as skipper of oceanographic sailboats looking for whales or carrying out environmental surveys. 
Juan Manuel Ballestero spent nearly three months sailing across the Atlantic and said he was chased by whom he thought were pirates off Africa's coast
Juan Manuel Ballestero spent nearly three months sailing across the Atlantic and said he was chased by whom he thought were pirates off Africa's coast 
Juan Manuel Ballestero tested negative for the coronavirus upon his return to Argentina
Juan Manuel Ballestero tested negative for the coronavirus upon his return to Argentina
Juan Manuel Ballestero said authorities denied him entry to the African island nation of Cape Verde and did not allow him to load up on food and fuel
Juan Manuel Ballestero said authorities denied him entry to the African island nation of Cape Verde and did not allow him to load up on food and fuel
He recalled being stopped by authorities and denied entry to Cape Verde in Africa to load up more food and fuel in case he needed to complete part of his journey with the boat's motor.
A few days later Ballesteros thought he would get into a gunfight at night when a ship with bright lights seemed to be following him, according to the New York Times. 
'I started going as fast as possible. I thought, if it gets very close, I'll shoot,' he said.
Ballestero was frightened when his fiberglass boat - an Ohlson 29 that he purchased in 2017 - was knocked over by waves some 150 miles from Vitória, Brazil. 
The incident tacked on an extra 10 days to his trip, which he originally planned to have finished off in 75. 
Ballestero said he 'could have lost the mast' when the wave brushed him from above.
'The boat went over. I couldn't trim the sail in time,' he said, adding that a cable broke. He said he got helping fixing his boat in Brazil.
Ballesteros said the important thing now is his coming reunion with his parents.
He said he has had enough adventures on the high seas for the time being and plans to stay in the house he has near his parents' home.
'I'll plant a garden and buy three chickens. I'll make it through the winter with the old people,' he said. 'I want to be with the family.'
Juan Manuel Ballestero's 29-foot boat broke down off the coast of Brazil, which extended his voyage by 10 extra days
Juan Manuel Ballestero's 29-foot boat broke down off the coast of Brazil, which extended his voyage by 10 extra days

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