Two men fighting for survival in a life-raft after getting into trouble in the Atlantic Rowing Race were rescued today - just 200 miles from the finishing line.
Bob Warren and Chris Barrett were competing in the 2,550-nautical mile race which left the Canary Islands at the end of November.
The pair, on board the Spirit Of Cornwall, had hoped to complete the challenge in Antigua, where Olympic rower James Cracknell and TV presenter Ben Fogle arrived last week.
But the men got into difficulty yesterday afternoon and sent out a distress signal which was picked up by Falmouth Coastguard.
A full-scale search was launched, which included the race's primary support vessel Aurora, a merchant ship called Rainbow and a Royal Naval destroyer.
The pair were spotted clinging to a life-raft at 10.30pm UK time last night.
HMS Southampton was 140 miles away from the troubled rowers at the time and was called to help rescue them.
The ship travelled at a maximum speed of 21 knots through the rough waters to try to help the men.
Navy spokesman Lt Col Andy Price said HMS Southampton was ready to launch a helicopter to rescue the rowers but they were safely picked up by Aurora just before 6am UK time.
"The sea state was pretty hazardous, it was a really uncomfortable route for them," said Lt Col Price. "At a maximum speed, the ship bounces through the waves.
"The rowers were picked up by the race support vessel and Southampton was released to go back to its drugs work."
Mr Warren and Mr Barrett, both from Cornwall, were said to be deeply disappointed not to finish the race but were in good health.
"They are absolutely fine and completely unharmed," said a spokeswoman for Woodvale Events, which organises the two-yearly race.
The pair were on board one of 26 boats taking part in the Atlantic challenge.
Mr Warren and Mr Barrett are not the first crew to get into difficulty during the gruelling race, which is now in its 53rd day.
Two Irish rowers - Ciaran Lewis and Gearoid Towey - were rescued in an almost identical incident 15 days ago.
Their boat capsized 1,600 miles from the finishing line in Antigua and the men were rescued by a merchant tanker.
Mr Cracknell and Mr Fogle survived a terrifying capsize en route before coming third in the race.
It was the second time HMS Southampton had been called upon to assist in a rescue operation in as many days.
Yesterday, the destroyer raced at full speed for 40 miles to a motor vessel, off the coast of Dominica in the eastern Caribbean, after receiving a Mayday call.
The ship's Lynx helicopter was launched and winched five of the six-man crew to safety while the final sailor was rescued by the ship's boat.
They had issued a call for help after the Lady Sacha began to break up and take on water due to heavy seas.
Once on board Southampton, the men, all from Guyana, were given a full medical examination and a hot meal before being taken to Martinique.
The ship is due return to the UK in February after six months' operational patrol in the Atlantic and Caribbean region.Reuse content