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Drastic Measures for Desperate Times

Picture this: it's early March and it's becoming increasingly clear that, bit by bit, the world was going to go into lockdown. And you want to get home to be with your family, particularly your 90 year old father. The problem is that you live on the tiny Portuguese island of Porto Santo and your family is in Argentina - and all flights have been cancelled.

Juan Manuel Ballestero (left) with brother and father.

The solution for 47 year old Juan Manuel Ballestero was to get in his small yacht and sail the 5,600 miles south west to Argentina.

Sensing time was running out, Ballestero was worried that his local port would soon begin restricting travel as well. The urgency of the situation left him with no opportunity to second-guess his decision: within 24 hours he elected to take the one-way ticket - and there was no going back. Indeed, by the time he had loaded up with provisions and was ready to embark, authorities on Porto Santo warned him that if he left, he could not return.

“I didn’t want to stay like a coward on an island where there were no cases,” Ballestero told The New York Times. “I wanted to do everything possible to return home. The most important thing for me was to be with my family.”

Ballestero set sail in mid-March in his 29 foot boat, hoping to make landfall in his home port of Mar del Plata in 75 days. Once past the equator, he ran out of fuel and was left to rely purely on wind power. On day 38, he ran out of wine. A few days later he ran into the doldrums where, without fuel, he sat for 10 days.

“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. Faith keeps you standing in these situations.”

The voyage also afforded Ballestero glimpses of Mother Nature’s beauty as well. For most of the final leg of his crossing, a playful pod of dolphins provided welcome company, racing alongside him. By the time he reached home, 85 days had elapsed. Immediately upon entering the port, he was tested for COVID-19 and cleared. Exhausted but ecstatic, Juan Manuel and his dad were reunited just in time for Father’s Day.

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