Days after Argentina canceled all international passenger flights to shield the country from the new coronavirus, Juan Manuel Ballestero began his journey home the only way possible: He stepped aboard his small sailboat for what turned out to be an 85-day odyssey across the Atlantic.
The 47-year-old sailor could have stayed put on the tiny Portuguese island of Porto Santo, to ride out the era of lockdowns and social distancing in a scenic place largely spared by the virus. But the idea of spending what he thought could be “the end of the world” away from his family, especially his father who was soon to turn 90, was unbearable.
So he said he loaded his 29-foot sailboat with canned tuna, fruit and rice and set sail in mid-March.
“I didn’t want to stay like a coward on an island where there were no cases,” Mr. Ballestero said. “I wanted to do everything possible to return home. The most important thing for me was to be with my family.”
Friends tried to dissuade Mr. Ballestero from embarking on the perilous journey, and the authorities in Portugal warned him he might not be allowed to re-enter if he ran into trouble and had to turn back. But he was resolute.
“I bought myself a one-way ticket and there was no going back,” he said.
His relatives, used to Mr. Ballestero’s itinerant lifestyle, knew better than to try to talk him out of it.
“The uncertainty of not knowing where he was for 50-some days was very rough,” said his father, Carlos Alberto Ballestero. “But we had no doubt this was going to turn out well.”
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