Transatlantic oarsmen encountered whales, were nearly swept overboard and navigated by the stars to win epic ocean race.

QBE’s James Croome has received a hero’s welcome on his return to the Lloyd’s underwriting floor after winning the epic Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Race.

Croome, an assistant specie underwriter at QBE’s marine and energy Syndicate 1036 (O’Farrell Syndicate), competed alongside school friend Oliver Back, a chartered accountant with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Speaking to GR, the pair described battling five-metre waves, nearly being swept overboard and swimming with inquisitive dolphins during the voyage. The pair also lost the light on their compass and at night navigated by the stars before assembling an improvised light from spare items in the boat.

The pair, who each lost more than 15kg despite consuming 9000 calories a day, battled tiredness to win the race in their target of under 60 days.

Organisers said weather conditions had been so bad that the teams, who came from around the world, faced the most difficult and treacherous transatlantic race ever seen.

James Croome confirmed weather patterns had not been as expected: “Some teams were going a long way south in an effort to pick up the currents that would take them across, but we realised quite early that the only way to succeed would be to tackle the crossing head-on.”

Back said that he and Croome took turns to row then sleep in shifts of three hours at a time. “When you’re not rowing, much of that time is taken up with admin, which makes recovery even more difficult.”

The team’s boat and equipment, which cost about £25,000, included satellite tracking, communications and mapping. They could also monitor the progress of their rivals – teams from France, South Africa and the UK – as they edged their way across the Atlantic.

Croome added: “We received calls of encouragement from colleagues and we were often told a line that is heard around the Lloyd’s market, that ‘failure is not an option’. I was thrilled to find out that so many of my colleagues in the Lloyd’s market were following our progress.”