17 February 2023

Women muscle through Bass Strait for Red Nose Foundation

| Zoe Cartwright
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group of rowers

The MusselRowers relieved and proud of their 320km achievement. Photo: Rob Pollock.

Dwarfed by three-metre swells and jagged granite cliffs, four women in a surfboat pull for the shore.

Halfway across the Bass Strait they will camp on the sand, in the cold and the rain, with four other teammates and their support crew, and snatch what sleep they can before morning.

All eight signed up to row the 320 kilometres from Port Welshpool in southern Victoria to Musselroe Bay in Tasmania, a feat they managed in just a week.

It wasn’t just because they all love a challenge, but to raise much-needed money for the Red Nose Foundation’s research into Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Last year a group of men, including members from Moruya and Narooma, became the first team to row a surfboat across the strait, raising money for the Humour Foundation charity.

Captain Michelle Cottington says the men’s feat inspired the women to have a go.

“One of the sweeps [from the men’s side] approached me and a couple of the other girls about it,” she said.

“It was definitely intimidating, but we discovered Red Nose was looking for more funds because they’d found an enzyme missing in these babies, and that was bringing them closer to a cure.

“So we put together a team with five girls from Broulee and three from further up the coast, between Cronulla and Berry, and got to work.”

In the lead-up, the women put in six hours a week rowing in the water, completed in three two-hour blocks, as well as three dry sessions on ERG rowers.

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Despite their hard work, and experience in the George Bass Marathon, crossing the strait was something else.

“We never knew what we were in for – every day was different,” Michelle said.

“Every day depended on the weather, but it didn’t matter what the forecast was, it changed halfway through anyway.

“We were all mentally tough and physically well prepared, but it still tested us.

“The second day in, we decided to cut out one of the islands and do an 89km row, which we’ve been told is a record for a surfboat row across the Bass Strait.

“The swells that day were two to three metres high, just walls of water coming towards us.”

After the mammoth 12-hour effort, the women pulled out their swags on the beach to camp in the rain, before getting up at 4 am to start again.

There were some spectacular moments sprinkled throughout the gruelling journey.


The MusselRowers women pull into Deal Island. Photo: Rob Pollock.

“Coming into Deal Island [pictured] in this huge swell, facing huge walls of rocks, we were so tiny in comparison – it’s so treacherous and so beautiful at the same time,” Michelle said.

“There were so many funny moments as well, the girls were always positive, always either laughing or puffing, and we kept each other in it.

“We’re all very like-minded and determined, and had a huge support crew who were always encouraging us, making sure we were well looked after and fed.”

On the final day, as they pulled into Musselroe Bay, emotions ran high.

They had set out into a big swell, before battling a headwind for the final hour and a half.

“It was very emotional to finish,” Michelle said.

“I didn’t think it would hit us all like it did, but coming in and all the girls’ families were standing on the beach, there were lots of emotions, relief and pride.”

The women decided at the beginning that whatever they were able to raise, they would be grateful for.

They’re closing in on $30,000, and every little bit helps.

To contribute, head to the MusselRowers website or the Women’s Red Nose Bass Strait Crossing Facebook page.

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