By Kadeem Joseph
From one thousand feet in the air, Team Antigua Pairs seem like mere specs in a vast sea as they continue to complete their final leg across the sea, destined to make landfall into Nelson’s Dockyard this afternoon.
Yesterday, as they inched closer to the finish line of the gruelling 3,000-mile row, Travis Weste and Jojo Nunes received a welcomed visit from a family member each.
A helicopter flyover – made possible through CalvinAir Helicopters – facilitated the reunion, and while still a distance apart, it was an emotional reconnection – one that Observer was present to witness.
Wednesday’s circa 70-nautical mile journey was smooth and punctuated by rains in the beginning making it difficult to catch a glimpse of the duo, but as we drew closer, beams of sunlight peeped through the clouds providing a spectacular view of them as they waved from the vessel proudly bearing the Antigua and Barbuda flag.
Even as the row boat bobbed and weaved with the waves that dwarfed them, both men were all smiles as they spoke to their relatives over the hum of the helicopter’s rotors.
The intrepid men said they both had goosebumps knowing that they were so close to family.
Christine Gillis, Nunes’ grandmother, was along for the emotional journey.
“I was very happy to see them. The boat is so small in the middle of the ocean and then you realise that is a really difficult challenge that they are doing,” she said.
During the trip she reminded her grandson that waiting for him would be a spread of fried chicken, a burger and sweet potato fries, finished with a serving of vanilla ice cream, as they both laughed.
For Weste, the visit was even more of a surprise when he found out his sister Maritza Weste was onboard.
“The thrill of actually seeing him in action with Jojo crossing the Atlantic was so exciting,” Maritza said. “The family is excited knowing that they are just a day away.”
While she acknowledged that there will still be some time before they get to embrace again, just the thought of knowing they are back in Antigua and Barbuda was enough.
Travis is also anticipating his first meal after he makes landfall, with “a big ball of fungi”, conch water, fried shrimp and ice cream making his menu.
Weste and Nunes are currently 10th out of 21 boats taking part in this year’s row which departed from the Canary Islands on December 12.
Though brief, the connection was a foreshadowing of what is expected later today when the families are reunited. While the sunset in the background darkened the sky as the helicopter made its way back to port, joy shone bright as anticipation for Team Antigua Pairs’ return grew.
While the team would have been greeted with a heroes’ welcome under normal circumstances, the present Covid-19 protocols mean they will get a more subdued reception, with all but family and special guests urged to stay away from the dockyard for their arrival.