PORT TOWNSEND — The sea was not kind to Team Ripple Effect earlier this month when rower Eliza Dawson’s quest to study the effects of humankind on the planet, especially the sea, abruptly ended.
One of her three crew mates fell seriously ill and the team elected to abandon the Great Pacific Race and its opportunity to investigate first-hand the Great Pacific Garbage Patch composed of plastics.
Dawson, an atmospheric scientist and an NCAA champion rower who grew up in Port Townsend, had trained hard for 10 months in anticipation of the event and prepared scientific experiments to complete along the way.
On June 6, Dawson and her international teammates, Emma Rogers, Mariana Cadore and Anna Kirkin, left Monterey, Calif., to begin the 2,400 nautical mile trip to Honolulu in an ocean rowing vessel.
The race, which was originally scheduled to begin June 2, was delayed due to strong offshore conditions.
During the first five days of the adventure the relentless weather had taken its toll on the teams.
Each of the five teams was tossed around by the seas.
Team Attack Poverty’s boat capsized and its two rowers suffered hypothermia. They had to be rescued by a passing cargo ship.
Team Ripple Effect had to change its strategy because wind speeds never dropped below 20 knots and wave heights reached 12 feet.
Three crew members had to row in these conditions instead of the planned two, meaning only one crew member could rest at a time. The team was making good westward progress and was in second place on Race Day 5.
According to Dawson’s blog post, on June 12 her teammate Kirkin fainted at the oars.
Dawson got Kirkin into the cabin and tended to her, warming her and checking her vital signs.
Kirkin made the difficult decision to leave the race which meant the remaining crew, who desperately wanted to continue, had to retire.
After receiving medical attention, it was determined that Kirkin had a kidney infection as a result of being dehydrated and hypoglycemic.
“I never give up so having a crew member become overpowered by the Pacific was traumatic on a number of levels and crushingly disappointing,” Dawson wrote in a statement to the Peninsula Daily News.
“I’m glad she is getting needed medical treatment, but I really wanted to still be out there.”
Although disappointed to not be able to bring awareness to climate change, Dawson has a new plan.
During the first two weeks of July, she will cycle 400 miles through the Alaskan and Canadian wilderness, viewing rapidly receding glaciers, wildlife and beautiful scenery.
“I remain determined to bring awareness to the impacts of climate change and am looking forward to documenting my cycling journey,” she wrote.
Dawson will attend Stanford University in a PhD program for climatologists. She’ll study radar and use models to improve scientists’ understanding of ice sheets and aid in improving sea level rise predictions.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].