Secret life

“You have your crew mates on the lookout for sharks”

Optometrist, Martin Skehan, talks with OT  about his aim to row more than 3000 miles across the Atlantic


I am part of a team of four who plan to row across the Atlantic in December as part of the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge. We anticipate the journey will take between 40 and 50 days. The accepted pattern is two hours rowing, two hours rest, then you’re back rowing. That is around the clock. You never really get more than a two-hour break unless it is because of adverse weather conditions.

In any journey where you are out there for more than five days – that is serious exposure to the elements and to the psychological and physical challenges. My family bought me the St Christopher medal for Christmas. That will be coming with me.

One of the things you have to do at repeated times during the crossing is you have to get out of the boat and clean it. I have a feeling that it will probably be me who is sent out of the boat to clean the barnacles off. If you don’t, it really slows down your progress. While you are out there you have your crew mates on the lookout for sharks.

You never really get more than a two-hour break unless it is because of adverse weather conditions


After day three you don’t see any land. But I am looking forward to seeing the ocean wildlife, the night sky and the enormity of it all. You will never see a night sky like that anywhere on land.

There are race regulations that specify you have to carry a certain amount of food per kilogram per person. I will be eating 5000 calories per day. When you set out, the boat is really weighed down. As you make your way across the boat gets lighter. All your packaging is retained on board and is accounted for at the end of our crossing.

From left to right, Stuart Richards, Stuart Shepherd, Martin Skehan, Gary Richards.

One of our crew members, Stuart Richards, has Leber's optic neuropathy. He began to notice changes in his sight between the ages of 20 and 24 then he rapidly lost a great deal of his vision. He can see around him, but he has very low visual acuity. He is highly motivated to bring everything else that he can to the journey. And we know he will make up for any inadequacy in his vision in every other way. He is a fantastic individual.

Another crew member is his brother, Gary Richards. He is remarkable as well because in every challenge we have done, he has supported Stuart. If he wants to do something, his brother will support him to make it happen. Along with our skipper, Stuart Shepherd, I’m now part of that. I am really bound into this because of the teamwork. It is not just about me getting there it is about us getting there.

Follow the team's progress on their website or donate to their fundraising page. Funds raised will be split between the RNIB and Severn Hospice.

  • As told to Selina Powell.