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Manuel Ballestero zarpó de Porto Santo, en Portugal, el 24 de marzo y acaba de llegar a Argentina. Photo: Associated Press
Manuel Ballestero set sail from Porto Santo, Portugal on March 24 and just arrived in Argentina. Photo: Associated Press

From Portugal to Argentina on a sailboat to hug their parents during COVID

When the flights were canceled because of the pandemic, an Argentinean man had the craziest idea of all: to cross the Atlantic to reunite with his family.

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Manuel Ballestero (47) could be the protagonist of a story by Jack London, a man at the mercy of an ocean and also of a pandemic. 

The Argentinean, who lives in Spain, was spending some time in the Madeira archipelago when the quarantine was imposed and all flights were canceled. Neither short nor lazy, he thought he should be with his parents and face the coronavirus with them. The problem was, his folks lived in Mar del Plata, in Argentina. Problem? No, he said, and threw himself into the sea. 

Ballestero took the 200 euros he had saved, loaded his sailboat "Skua" with food and set sail from Porto Santo on March 24. On June 18, he arrived at his hometown after months of crossing. He crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a crossing not without danger, as he had to face fearsome storms and almost lost his life off the coast of Brazil when the strong winds and waves shook his small boat.

"The boat fell over. I couldn't adjust the sail in time. I could have lost the mast," he told Almudena Calatrava from AP of the moment the wave "brushed" against him from above about 150 miles off Victoria. Then he was afraid, the worst moment of the trip, he said. But he got over it. 

"I came home. He's human," continued Ballestero, who has fished in Alaska and also in the South Atlantic captaining oceanographic vessels in search of whales. 

He would have liked to arrive before May 15, to spend his father's 90th birthday with him, but it's challenging enough that he arrived safely. He also said he was pretty sure the pandemic and closures would continue for quite some time and had no guarantee that he would be able to see his family again unless he took risks. A difficult decision that for someone as experienced as him, was not so hard. 

"I'm calm now, anchored here in the middle of this port," said the sailor, who must spend a fortnight's quarantine before he can embrace his parents, with the boat moored some 8.8 meters from the port. "There's no storm to bother me and no boat to run me over.

Now he is looking forward to meeting Carlos and Nilda, 90 and 82 years old, and spending a long time with them, as he has had enough excitement and adventure at sea. 
"I will plant a garden and buy three chickens. I will spend the winter with the elderly," he concluded. "I want to be with the family."

Quarantine in Argentina

Argentina surpassed 1,000 deaths from coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic on Sunday, with 42,785 infected, according to EFE. 

The country continues to be confined, especially in critical places like the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area, the central focus of the epidemic. Argentinian President Alberto Fernández recently announced that he is working to extend the quarantine, as the peak of infection has not yet been reached. However, the date for the end of the confinement is still June 28. 

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