Holy crap- I had no idea people did this stuff!
After nearly 50 days on the Atlantic, the rowers embrace. 'You saved my life,' Fogle tells Cracknell
Cassandra Jardine sees the TV presenter and the Olympic winner reach land
A tiny light on the horizon was the first sign for the loved ones of James Cracknell and Ben Fogle that the men were alive. It was midnight and the sea was pitch black as they motored in a rented boat towards the light, trying to keep their eyes on the tiny dot. Even in a 53ft boat, the waves were so big that the view was obscured much of the time. They could only hope that Cracknell and Fogle could see them.
James Cracknell is reunited with his wife
The rowers' VHF radio had survived their capsize nine days beforehand but was not working properly. As the glimmering light came closer they made contact. "It's Ben," screamed Marina Hunt, Fogle's girlfriend.
A cheer filled the boat of supporters who had come out to watch them approach the end of their seven-week ordeal. Only Inca, Ben's dog, was absent from the party that included James's wife, Beverley Turner, his two-year-old son Croyde, both sets of parents, sisters and friends.
Amid 12ft waves it was only possible to get near enough to see that Cracknell was rowing - "as long as his sore bum will hold out", said Fogle.
Shortly before reaching the finishing line he handed over the oars to the slower rower, a gentlemanly gesture in acknowledgement that this dangerous challenge had been Fogle's idea. Cracknell became involved only late last year when the presenter of television wildlife programmes bounced up to the Olympic gold medallist oarsman at a party and asked him to accompany him on the Atlantic Rowing Race to raise money for BBC Children in Need.
They made an odd couple. Cracknell had trained all his adult life for three Olympic Games, an event for which he had to row with all his might for six minutes. He had lived, his wife says, "in a pressure cooker of competition" with only one aim, to come first. She wondered if this race would be "kill or cure" for his hyper-competitive spirit.
Fogle was, by his own admission, "useless" at rowing, but with a passion for tough challenges. As a teenager he climbed the volcano Cotopaxi; in 2000 he accepted the challenge of being marooned for a year on a remote Scottish island for the television show Castaway; and in 2004 he ran the 155-mile Marathon des Sables. But Fogle is not competitive. "Ben just wants to do things, he doesn't want to win," Miss Hunt says.
As rowers, they both knew that they would have their differences. That much was evident before the start of the race at La Gomera in the Canaries. And yet they made it, emerging from their boat 49 days later looking skinny, wearing their last two pairs of tattered shorts (having rowed naked much of the time out of necessity as much as to prevent chafing), burnt brown by the sun and with heavy beards.
As they stepped out of the boat their legs were scarcely able to support them after so many weeks when they were unable to stand. On land, they embraced one another. "Thanks mate," said Cracknell. Fogle, hugging him back, said: "You saved my life".
It was an extraordinary feat for them to have made it to the end of the 2,937-mile race. To have arrived ahead of all the other pairs in the competition was little short of a miracle to all those who watched them before they set off on November 30.
The other competitors in the 26-boat, 58-competitor race had spent two years or more preparing themselves physically and psychologically. They had assembled their flat-packed boats and mastered their equipment well in advance and had deliberately put on extra weight to burn during the voyage.
Cracknell and Fogle did none of that. They ordered their boat two months before they set out and only then started to look for sponsors and source equipment. Too busy to practise, they had no idea whether they would get on.
"I wondered how James would cope with taking part in a race in which he wouldn't know how he was doing, couldn't see the other competitors and had little control over his ability to win," said Turner, a television presenter, who feared that Fogle's inexperience as a rower would infuriate her competitive husband.
Miss Hunt, a children's party planner, was worried as to how her laid-back boyfriend would cope with Cracknell's insatiable will to win. "At La Gomera," she said, "James was shaving millimetres off their oars to give them the competitive edge and Ben was beginning to regret asking him to row with him. Ben is non-confrontational and James can be a bully. I kept begging Ben to stand up to him."
The race was three days late in starting because of bad weather and, for them, this was a boon as their boat had acquired a hole in transit and they discovered at the 11th hour that their oars were in the wrong position for ocean rowing and that their pins were breaking. But even with this extra time, they were in such a rush that Fogle did not have his rowing shoes, and they were completely unprepared for the stress they would suffer when fighting water that felt as heavy as treacle as they rowed in adverse currents.
For the first 10 days they were so miserable that they could not bear to speak to their families at home. It was only after they began to make some progress that they dared to share their gloom, which, at times, was intense. "I was worried that Ben was over-straining himself, rowing faster than he would have done on his own or with someone else in order to keep up with James," said Miss Hunt.
Meanwhile, Turner was anxious about the mental stress her husband was suffering. Used to Olympic training in which everything was done for him and all he had to do was row, he was unprepared for the psychological stress of ocean rowing.
"I never heard him say one positive thing about the race when he called home. At times, he was sobbing down the phone," said Turner. "I thought he might throw himself overboard."
This was the worst of all years to take part in this race, which is timed to start after the end of the hurricane season. Usually, the seas are calm and the winds favourable, but the rowers were hit by three low-pressure systems, two tropical storms and Hurricane Zeta. For days on end they were confined to their airless cabin, the size of a car boot, trying to distract themselves with card games and anecdotes while Cracknell fretted about the time they were losing and other boats pulling ahead.
Christmas marked the nadir of their spirits. They were bobbing about on their sea anchor or rowing in such constantly veering winds that they feared that they were going backwards. Added to that, thick cloud cover prevented their desalinator from working, so they were getting dangerously dehydrated.
Miss Hunt said: "On Christmas Eve James rang me in secret asking me to call Ben as he was too miserable to ring me. I begged him to break into the fresh water ballast even though it would mean a time penalty."
To her great relief, Fogle rang back some time later to say that was what they had done, although Cracknell now feared that they would lose the race. Sense only prevailed once they realised that, if they had to give up because pride prevented them from drinking the fresh water, it would take them even longer to reach Antigua and their waiting families.
They swallowed painkillers to mask the agony of the inflamed tendons on Fogle's hands and the infected sores on Cracknell's bottom. They cut back on their rations of 10,000 calories a day because they feared that the race would take them more than the 50 days they had anticipated.
Apart from the occasional pilot whale and dolphin, and the letters from home containing tiny presents and quiz questions, they were alone with their frustrations and their spirits swung.
Rowing two hours on, two hours off, sleep deprivation made their task still harder. "I kept telling James to think about all those others in the race who were far behind, some of them rowing solo, no thought of winning," said Turner, "but he would say, 'whatever' and ask about his position again."
As the final storm left them, with another boat taking the lead, Cracknell told his wife that he was going to put on a three-day spurt. As his mother, Jenny, said: "From then on, they started to race ahead of the other pairs, learning to surf the waves that sometimes reached 50ft and threatened to overwhelm them. When one finally did so, turning them over and depriving them of much of their equipment, they thought of raising the alarm. It was James's competitive spirit that kept them going.
"For days afterwards, I was too scared of it happening again to sleep in the cabin," said Cracknell, "and Ben was too frightened of another wave tipping us over to row. But I was not going to give up, especially since just before it happened we had our best ever morning."
Nine days later they came into land looking like Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday but, despite the disagreements that had arisen from time to time, they were firm friends. "We helped each other when the other was down," said Cracknell. "I have learnt that I am not always right from Ben's more subtle perspective on life."
"And I am grateful to James's competitive spirit that kept us going. I hope some of it has rubbed off on me," said Fogle.
As they stepped ashore, the bond between them was evident. While Cracknell hugged Turner, Fogle, with his arm around Miss Hunt, announced: "James and I are thinking of having another adventure. It will have nothing to do with boats or rowing."
Now safely in Antigua, they can spare a thought for those still rowing. They include a French pair of amputees (the support boat is carrying spare legs for them). A British photographer has missed the birth of his twins because he could not let down the cancer charity for which he was raising more than £1 million. Towards the back is Roz Savage, a former City high-flyer who capsized and is on her own.
Of the 26 boats to start, three have given up, one of them because their boat sprang a leak following an attack by a 12ft shark. Two others who capsized were not as lucky as Cracknell and Fogle in that they could not right their boats.
A pair of American women spent 16 hours sitting on the upturned hull waiting for rescuers after their liferaft went adrift. Another woman had to be winched off her foursome boat because she had consumed all the boat's supplies of painkillers and feared that she would permanently damage her back.
Cracknell now has two months in which to decide whether to take part in the Beijing Olympics. Fogle has television programmes to make. But, in the short term, all they want to do is sleep and eat, and feel proud that they are now among the select few - less than 160 -- to have rowed the Atlantic.
Rowers return: Fogle and Cracknell tell how they nearly drowned
By Cassandra Jardine
Cassandra Jardine's full interview [MP3 file]( http://podcast.telegraph.co.uk/CracknellFogleForWeb.mp3 )
Cold, sore and tired, James Cracknell and Ben Fogle have reached the finish of the Atlantic Rowing Race in Antigua and spoken for the first time of their brush with death last week.
Yesterday Cracknell and Fogle described what happened around midday on Tuesday January 10 when their boat flipped over, bow first, after being hit by a wave from behind.
Ben Fogle and James Cracknell in Antigua
"The waves were enormous and I was rowing," said Fogle, "when suddenly I had this sensation of being lifted out of my shoes.
"I remember holding on to an oar for dear life but letting it slip. The next thing I knew, I was under water. I came to the surface 100ft from the boat, amid the debris of our equipment.
"There was no sign of James and I had no line to the boat. I thought, 'That's it, I've had it'."
Cracknell, 33, woke to find himself upside down in the tiny cabin. "My face was pressed against the window and water was coming in through the open hatch," he said. "Then I felt the boat turn over again and there was Ben clinging to the side screaming, 'I'm here, I'm here'."
Fogle, 32, cannot remember how he swam to the boat in the heavy seas but recalls reaching the side and clinging to a line while the boat righted itself.
"I heard James screaming my name and just clung on."
He then sat down in the bow and shook like a leaf while Cracknell, who only later succumbed to shock, told him: "We've got an hour to sort ourselves out and then we must start rowing again." With their satellite phone wrecked, GPS and sea anchor lost, charts floating away, water desalinator broken and with only one working rowing position, they battled on, rowing day and night.
"We knew the only way we could show our families that we were alive and well was by rowing fast," said Fogle.
Cracknell said: "By then all we wanted to do was to get to the end."
Cracknell, a double Olympic gold medallist and Fogle, a television wildlife presenter, whooped with relief as they finished the 2,937-mile race.
"We've done it," they cried, as they arrived at Antigua's English Harbour by moonlight in heavy seas at 3.13am local time, 49 days, 19hrs and 8mins after leaving La Gomera in the Canaries.
"We've enjoyed it, but we won't be doing that again," said Fogle.
They finished 85 hours ahead of the two-man race, but were 10 days behind All Relative, a foursome led by Justin Adkin from Devon.
Jeez, the lengths some guys will go to in order to fake a "lost all my guns in a boating accident" incident.
Great.. now I have to endure media hype about the upcoming thriller "brokeback perfect storm going down"
To hell with that, there is too much shit in the ocean that can eat you. I'd be waaaay to creeped out for something like that.
Where does it sy they are HomoSexuals?
Why? Fucking why?
That must be the 4 years and 26 days' worth of consecutive sea duty in Uncle Sam's Haze Grey Yacht Club talking.
Not nearly as impressive as the GIRL that rowed across the Atlantic SOLO a while back.
That was impressive.
Here's a link:
as I was googling that, there are people that do this for fun all the time, started back in the 70's apparently.
Man, I get bored out of my skull driving solo across Kansas. I wouldn't want to sit in a boat crossing the atlantic at all.
And to hell with that rowing shit.
Posers who put themselves in life or death situations to make themselves feel 'heoric' are not newsworthy. Its just attention whoring of one of the highest orders.
Who here has the balls to do it????
I think it's pretty amazing myself, I mean do you know how much tang he's gonna get
If by "tang" you mean "man-juice" then no, and I don't want to.