Cross-Tasman epic voyage raises awareness for sick wife

FACING THE CHALLENGE: Sarah and Malcolm Skelton. He is early in the slog across the Tasman in a row boat to raise awareness for Freidrich's Ataxia.
FACING THE CHALLENGE: Sarah and Malcolm Skelton. He is early in the slog across the Tasman in a row boat to raise awareness for Freidrich's Ataxia.

By Lindy Laird

When Malcolm Skelton started rowing from Australia to New Zealand he thought he could knock the Tasman off in 50 days.

He left Coff's Harbour on New South Wales' north coast on Monday April 10, heading for New Plymouth but got caught in the wrong winds and ended up being blown north for four or five days.

The man who grew up in Whangarei is back on track now, as far as his course goes - but he's still only 300km off the Australian coast, his email set-up isn't working and his desalination system is playing up.

These glitches are not unexpected, his mother Georgina Skelton said.

Mr Skelton is well prepared, well trained and very focused on the daring funds-and-awareness raising feat he is undertaking for research into a rare, debilitating disorder called Freidrich's Ataxia.

Mr Skelton's wife Sarah has the life-shortening, neuro-muscular disorder; one of only 72 known cases in Australia.

"Malcolm believes it is his life's duty to do all he can to raise funds for research into finding a cure and awareness of this disease," his mother said.

"Malcolm's motto is you can't cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water."

Georgina Skelton lives in South Australia. For many years she worked as a nurse and rest home owner in Whangarei, where she raised her six sons who all went to Whangarei Boys' High School.

Mr Skelton, who lives in Cairns, set out hoping his 2150km epic voyage in the specially outfitted ocean row boat would take between 50 and 60 days, but "the realist in him" figures it might even take up to 80 days.

Fifty days would be a world record.

Mr Skelton, 45, has already made journeys along NSW/Queensland coast in the fibreglass vessel. The biggest sea trial for the $35,000 boat he has called Sarah J was when Australian adventurer Andrew Abrahams crossed the Atlantic Ocean in it in 2013-14.

"It is one of the best designs and will handle anything the Tasman throws our way," Mr Skelton said.

His mother said part of his motivation comes from Sarah bravely coping with her disease for 25 years.

While there is no cure as yet for Freidrich's Ataxia, Mr Skelton knows from personal experience what it means to beat the odds.

When a boy, back in 1981 he was hit by a car at the Kensington and Kamo Rds intersection, and spent three months in hospital recovering from his injuries.

His mother is appealing for people to help support his mission in bringing attention to his wife's rare disorder.

To donate or follow the progress visit the Tasman Row 4 FARA Facebook page.

- Northern Advocate

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