Rescued rowers 'lucky to be alive' after boats are battered by tropical storm in Pacific

British duo put out distress calls after vessels were tossed around like matchwood by 50ft waves

Two British adventurers attempting to row across the Pacific Ocean were rescued yesterday after their solo rowing boats were battered and capsized by a terrifying storm.

Sarah Outen, who blogs for The Independent, was trying to row, kayak and cycle around the world, and Charlie Martell was, in a separate attempt, trying to set a record for a solo crossing of the Pacific.

Each put out distress calls after their boats were battered by tropical Storm Mawar with 50-foot waves and winds of 60mph. Ms Outen was rescued by a coastguard vessel 560 miles off Japan's north-east coast yesterday, while Mr Martell was plucked from sea a few hours later by a merchant ship.

Both rowers were described as "lucky to be alive" having been caught by the fearsome Tropical Storm Mawar, which hurled their seven-metre-long boats about like matchwood. Ms Outen's boat capsized at least 20 times during the storm and she put out a distress call while strapped into her cabin and wearing a helmet to prevent her being dashed against the sides.

After being picked up by the coastguard, she tweeted in relief: "Hooray 4 Japanese always being early!"

She was able to get a message to her UK support team a little later to say that while "tired and knocked about" she was otherwise well.

Jenny Ellery, part of her UK team, said the fear was that the boat might break up during the storm: "She was very grateful that the boat hung on in there and that each time it capsized it righted itself. She's been knocked about a bit. We haven't been able to speak to her yet but we've had a message from her that she's had a bath, she's got warm clothes and she's obviously very, very tired but she is fine – and happy to be heading back to Japan safe and sound." Ms Outen was more than halfway through a two-and-a-half year expedition.

Mr Martell was picked up by the Russian crew of the Gibratar-registered bulk carrier Last Tycoon. He was able to call his UK support team almost immediately he was brought on board and told them simply: "Hello, I've been rescued."

His boat, Blossom, suffered structural damage in the storm and had capsized repeatedly. Adrian Bell, Mr Martell's brother-in-law and campaign manager, said after the rescue: "We are obviously very pleased.

"He seemed remarkably well composed. He said he was cold and is enjoying some hot food and drying out. He's in good shape considering."

Mr Bell, who also knows Ms Outen, said it was the first time that the type of boats used by the pair had been exposed to such fearsome conditions. It was, he said, because of their design and workmanship that they remained afloat.

"It was a frightening place for Charlie and Sarah. The boat is essentially crippled. However, it is well built. The fact it made it through the storm is itself a testament to the design. We are very lucky," he said.

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