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After COVID Cancels All Flights, One Man Sailed Solo Across the Atlantic to Reach His 90-Year-old Father

Most of us know the adage, “You can’t go home again,” but it seems Juan Manuel Ballestero never got the memo.

As the true implications of the Covid-19 crisis grew increasingly dire, Ballestero wanted more than anything else to be reunited with his elderly parents in Argentina in time for his father’s upcoming 90th birthday.

The problem? Ballestero was in Portugal and all international flights had been cancelled.

With a daunting 5,600 miles and the Atlantic Ocean between him and his family, Ballestero was faced with a seemingly insurmountable dilemma. But, the 47-year-old mariner came up with a daring solution—he’d simply sail home.

Sensing time was of the essence, Ballestero feared the local port would soon begin restricting travel as well. The urgency of the situation left him with no window to second-guess his decision: Within 24 hours he decided to take the one-way ticket—and there was no going back.

He’d been right, too. By the time he was ready to embark, authorities on the tiny Portuguese island of 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.”

Instagram Juan Manuel Ballestero @skuanavega

A scant few days later, after provisioning his 29-foot sailboat with what he hoped would be enough rice, fruit, canned tuna, and wine to sustain him, Ballestero made ready to weigh anchor. Trusting that faith would get him where he needed to go—like a modern-day Odysseus—he set sail in mid-March, hoping to make landfall in his home port of Mar del Plata in 75 days.

Adrift in the Atlantic Ocean

Like that of Odysseus, Ballestero’s voyage wasn’t without hardships or danger. His food supply dwindled, and authorities at Cape Verde, the port where he’d hoped to restock, refused him entry. 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.

Then, the wind quit, leaving his sailboat sitting in the doldrums for 10 days. During that time, barnacles grew on the hull—which would create drag and slow him down. So he was forced to dive under the vessel and scrape them off, risking a shark attack.

With no one aboard to help should he run into trouble, the situation was potentially perilous, but Ballestero proved lucky. The wind eventually picked up again, allowing him to resume course.

Instagram Juan Manuel Ballestero @skuanavega

As the journey dragged on, Ballestero’s faith was continually challenged, but he never truly panicked. “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,” he told The Times. “Faith keeps you standing in these situations.”

While Ballestero endured numerous adversities, the voyage also afforded him glimpses of Mother Nature’s grace as well. For most of the final leg of his crossing, a playful pod of dolphins provided welcome company, racing alongside him.

Father’s Day Reunion

By the time Ballestero 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.

Juan Manuel Ballestero (left) with brother and father @skuanavega Instagram

Just like the saga of Odysseus, Juan Manuel’s exploits revealed a few key truths: For the Argentine son who would be stuck half way across the globe facing his father’s mortality alone, “there’s no place like home.” And for the sailor whose skill and faith is steadfast, “where there’s a will,” there’s surely to be a way.

WATCH an interview with Juan via EWTN…

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