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Capsized rowers' 52-hour triumph

PUBLISHED: 17:51 19 May 2010 | UPDATED: 11:42 23 August 2010

ENGLAND EXPECTS: Stuart Pierce talks to the academy’s young footballing stars of the future.

ENGLAND EXPECTS: Stuart Pierce talks to the academy's young footballing stars of the future.

IT started over a drink in a pub - and sent five rowing friends on a fundraising charity voyage which almost cost them their lives. Far from the warmth of the bar at the Crown and Thistle pub they found themselves fighting for their lives in deep, icy Th

IT started over a drink in a pub - and sent five rowing friends on a fundraising charity voyage which almost cost them their lives.

Far from the warmth of the bar at the Crown and Thistle pub they found themselves fighting for their lives in deep, icy Thames water more than a mile from shore in the dark.

But help was at hand - two support boats were nearby, the crew was quickly rescued, equipment and rowing boat recovered and all taken to land for running repairs.

The drama happened just hours after the 12-strong team from Gravesend and Medway began a 500-mile rowing charity challenge from London to Paris against two other crews.

At about 10pm on the opening night they were well ahead of the others off Herne Bay when strong northerly winds whipped up the water, swashed it over the side and capsized the boat.

Organiser John Nightingale, 52, said: "We were in the water and we inflated our life-jackets. It was extremely cold and quite a hairy moment.

"Although we were soon fished out the water there was a risk that we could have drifted off in the dark, and that was a very real risk. We make light of it now but our lives were really on the line."

But they reckon it was worth it and the EllenorLions Hospice and Macmillan Cancer Support should each get in excess of £2,000.

After more than 52 hours of rowing, the Gravesend crew finished in Paris on Saturday with a clear margin, more than two hours faster than runners-up from Guildford and the other crew from Thames Ditton.

Mr Nightingale added: "We're all really proud. When we capsized we thought it might be over for us and we weren't sure if the boat was damaged beyond repair.

But it made us even more determined, it was a low point, but significant because it helped to drive us on. The high point was when all the people lining the Seine cheered us on."

Team members from Gravesend were Mr Nightingale, a civil engineer and father-of-two, Michael Russell, 34, PLA manager at Denton and father-of-one, Shaun Martin, a 40-year-old carpenter and father-of-two, Grant Loten, a 34-year-old gas worker and father-of-three, and soon-to-be grandfather Mark Watkins, a 44-year-old cable jointer who also has three children. Other members were from Medway and Hayling Island.

All but Mr Loten were in the pub 18 months ago when they decided to go for an "extreme row". They picked the London2Paris challenge on the Internet, and they had to raise more than £20,000 to take part.

When asked there next challenge, he added: "We might defend our title next time round in two years' time, but we're going to be thinking about it over a drink in the Crown and Thistle over the next two weeks.

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