Olympic gold medallist Cracknell conquers Atlantic with TV's Fogle

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The Independent Online

They suffered exhaustion and blistered hands, and almost broke down when thirst and homesickness threatened to get the better of them over Christmas.

But Olympic rower James Cracknell and television presenter Ben Fogle endured and yesterday, after 49 days at sea, finally completed the gruelling 2,500-nautical mile transatlantic rowing race and crossed the finishing line in Antigua.

The exhausted pair came third in the Atlantic Rowing Race 2005, competing against 25 other solo, two-man and four-man teams, and finally resting their oars at 7.13 am GMT yesterday.

The winners of the race, another British four-man team, beat the world record for the rowing across the Atlantic when they came in 11 days earlier, completing the course in 39 days, three hours, 35 minutes and 47 seconds, on the 8th January.

Fogle and Cracknell were just beaten to second place by a second British four-man team, over whom they had had a lead in the last 24 hours of the race, but eventually won first place for their two man category. The pair were said by their spokeswoman to be "absolutely exhausted but on really good form" after finally stepping on to dry land.

It was the end of a non-stop journey - from La Gomera in the Canary Isles to Antigua in the West Indies - which pushed the men to their limits as they rowed the 23ft Spirit of EDF Energy, through two tropical storms and the tail end of a hurricane, in adverse weather conditions in which two other competitors were rescued by coastguards after having to take to their lifeboats 700 miles north-west of the Azores.

Both Fogle and Cracknell kept diaries in which they described how they had become "emotional wrecks" by Christmas Day, neither able to call their families or open presents for fear that reminders of home would dampen their spirits still further.

With their water purifier scarcely working, they had only two litres to drink each day. "We were craving, hallucinating for water", they wrote. "We tried cooking our dehydrated food in sea water but it was horrible and we kept bursting into tears. For about 48 hours we could hardly row because we kept breaking down."

Before they set off, Fogle, 32, who first came to prominence after appearing in the BBC1 reality television show Castaway, said he and Cracknell intended to row in the nude to prevent chafing.

"Clothes will literally cut you", he said. "Also, you get incredibly hot and sweaty in all the wrong places and become a breeding ground for fungal growths. It'll be 35 degrees some days and we won't be able to wash." They estimated that they would consume 10,000 calories a day, lose three stone and sleep no more than two hours in a row.

The overall winners were Justin Adkin, 26, his brother Robert, 23, and their cousins Martin Adkin, 20, and James Green, 24, from Beer, Devon. Mr Adkin set another record when he became the youngest person to have rowed across the Atlantic.