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Last Updated: Friday, 27 January 2006, 07:40 GMT
Cracknell's incredible journey
By Matt Majendie

Ben Fogle (left) and James Cracknell after the finish
Both lost weight and gained facial hair before the finish
James Cracknell is relishing the normality of London life, the capital's cold January climes and even the monotony of the Tube.

Three months in an open boat in the Atlantic Ocean, with only one man for company will do that to you.

On Thursday the double Olympic rowing champion landed back in England for the first time since November and on the back of a death-defying 3,000-mile row across the Atlantic with television presenter Ben Fogle.

And Cracknell is just pleased to be in one piece after finishing third in the Atlantic Rowing Race and first of the two-man crews.

On Boxing Day the 33-year-old suffered his first near-death experience when he and a sleeping Fogle were nearly ploughed into by a tanker.

"I had my iPod in and failed to notice this absolutely enormous tanker coming our way," he told BBC Sport. "Then all of a sudden we were about 30 metres from it and I was rowing for dear life."

My son had gone from being a baby to a little boy in the time I'd been away
James Cracknell
The pair came out of the incident intact but their ordeal was far from over. And worse was to follow on 10 January when they capsized.

While Fogle was rowing, the duo were hit by a huge wave that catapulted him 100 feet from their boat.

Cracknell recalled: "I was asleep at the time. There was this massive bang on the boat and then everything in the cabin fell on me. Then I heard water gushing in and the boat rising up.

"I got up as quick as I could but couldn't see Ben in the boat. Thankfully it was light - if it had been dark it doesn't bear thinking about.

"Then I saw him - somehow he'd got out of danger and was hanging on to the boat but all our belongings were strewn all over the ocean.

"He was shaking with shock, while I was fine... well, at least initially. My shock followed some time later and I was in bits."

30 November: Set off from La Gomera in the Canary Islands
Christmas Day: Pair reach all-time low after opening presents and speaking to their families. Cracknell's wife fears he is set to throw himself overboard
Boxing Day: Come within 30 metres of being ploughed into by an ocean tanker
January 10: Capsize after being hit by a massive wave; Cracknell stuck in cabin with rising water, Fogle thrown 100 feet from the boat
January 19: Arrive in Antigua after 49 days, 19 hours and eight minutes
Soon after their brush with death, the pair, who alternated throughout the 50-day voyage rowing two hours on and two hours off round the clock, resumed their rowing.

But Cracknell said: "After that, Ben didn't want to row, understandably, while I had no desire to get back in our coffin of a cabin. But our GPS (global positioning system) was bust and we had 800 miles to go.

"The only way to let our families know we were alive was to row as quickly as possible so they could see the boat's tracker moving along nicely."

Ten days later they were greeted by their families in a yacht 20 miles from the finish - an experience they had both "been talking about since the start".

"The conditions were pretty bad," said Cracknell, "and it was only then they realised what we'd really been going through.

"But it was just incredible to see them, and my son had gone from being a baby into being a proper little boy."

While finishing, which was greeted by a joint shout of "we've made it", was the clear high, Christmas Day was their biggest low.

I'm fine to do something else with Ben but nowhere near the bloody water
Cracknell on plans for a new expedition with Fogle
They were running out of water, as their solar panels - which powered their desalination equipment - were not working, and Cracknell started hallucinating. A phone call home worsened matters and reduced both men to tears - a "regular occurence" of the trip.

Thursday is the first day since the end of November that Cracknell has not seen Fogle - an experience he has found difficult.

And he has also struggled to come to terms with dry land and not rowing alongside whales, dolphins and flying fish, one of which hit him in the face.

He added: "The first few nights my wife told me I kept on waking up and asking if we were drifting in the right direction. And then I'd hear the waves and suddenly expect the bed to wobble but it didn't because we were obviously on land.

"Also, people talk about finding your sea legs but I've had to find my land legs again. I genuinely couldn't properly walk for about three days.

"People would laugh at me as I'd be walking down a path and suddenly veer off and fall into the bushes."

Perhaps worryingly for their families, he and Fogle have already talked about their next expedition.

But Cracknell insisted: "I'm fine to do something else but nowhere near the bloody water".

Ben Fogle and James Cracknell's journey will be televised on BBC One and Two from 13 February, with a book of their escapade coming out in the autumn. The pair took part in the race to raise money for BBC Children in Need. To donate see:

Links to more Rowing stories


Interview: Ben Fogle and James Cracknell

Fury at 'favouritism' for Fogle
25 Jan 06 |  Cornwall
Cracknell and Fogle claim third
19 Jan 06 |  Rowing

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