27 November 2023

From the Cape to PNG: Charity rowers first in the world to make it across Torres Strait

| Chisa Hasegawa
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Group photo at wharf in front of sunset.

The Musselrowers have become the first group to successfully sail across the Torres Strait. Photo: Musselrowers.

A group of rowers from New South Wales have become the first to cross the Torres Strait in a surf boat after successfully rowing from Seisia in Cape York to Papua New Guinea.

The Musselrowers completed their 205km journey at the border of a small village called Sigabadaru on Wednesday, November 22 with sore bodies and blistered hands, travelling up to 85km a day on the water.

Musselrowers and Sigabadaru locals.

The group were welcomed by a local Elder and excited villagers. Photo: Musselrowers.

Musselrowers member Rob Pollock said entering Papua New Guinea was an incredible feeling.

“We got the biggest welcome; it was so great,” he said.

They were greeted by local Elder Kebei Salee, as well as a huge group of village children.

“By the time we got our boat up, we looked up and there would have been about 200 kids just running at us, they were like soldier crabs,” he laughed.

The Musselrowers were established in 2022 as a group of passionate ocean rowers raising money for charities.

After raising $200,000 for Clown Doctors and Red Nose after crossing the Bass Strait, Mr Pollock said their third journey was for mental health charity, the Black Dog Institute.

“We’re trying to raise awareness and funds for mental health and the Black Dog Institute has an arm to their group that supports Torres Strait Islanders,” he said.

“That appealed to us because we were rowing across the Torres Strait, so we were rowing for people affected by mental health in the area, as well as the people we know in our own hometown.”

Crossing international borders in a surfboat was a “logistical nightmare” as it had never been done before, he said.

“The authorities sort of struggled with the whole concept of it because we didn’t fit the normal shoe box and they had to make it a bit different for us,” said Mr Pollock.

Papua New Guinea authorities were going to make the crew row to Daru instead, but the conditions “would have been horrendous”.

“I don’t think we would have made it if we had to go to Daru,” he said.

Fortunately for the crew, Australian Border Force “boss lady” Cheryl Halpin convinced Papua New Guinea to allow the crew to cross into Sigabadaru.

“I couldn’t be more grateful and without their support, we wouldn’t have been able to get the authority from PNG to cross at the side of Sigabadaru village,” Mr Pollock said.

Australian Border Force officer Cheryl Halpin.

Australian Border Force officer Cheryl Halpin supported the crew in completing their journey across the border. Photo: Musselrowers.

As well as raising significant funds for charity, the Musselrowers also believed it was important to connect with First Nations peoples.

“Connection to the local Torres Strait Islanders was pretty special on this trip, and it’s been a real awakening to learn more about their history,” Mr Pollock said.

Now back in Australia, the crew are already thinking about their next trip, and are keen on a journey around the Tiwi islands near Darwin.

“There’s a lot of Aboriginal history around those islands and I think we just have a lot of respect for the culture and the people who live on these islands,” he said.

Support the Musselrowers and the Black Dog Institute here.

Rowing surfboat on the ocean.

The crew are looking forward to helping more people with their passion for ocean rowing. Photo: Musselrowers.

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