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U.S. Coast Guard saves Englishman

 August 24, 2004

By PETER PORCO
Anchorage Daily News

DUTCH HARBOR: Six hundred miles south, far from his capsized boat, Mick Dawson was in a life raft.

A 39-year-old Englishman rowing alone across the northern Pacific Ocean was rescued about 600 miles south of Dutch Harbor early Monday after his small boat capsized for unknown reasons, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Mick Dawson of Lincolnshire, U.K., was about two-thirds of the way across the ocean from Choshi, Japan, to his destination of San Francisco, according to the Web site of the Ocean Rowing Society, a London-based organization that has tracked the rower's daily progress.

Dawson's 23-foot rowing boat, Mrs. D's Viking Spirit, was hit by something in dead-calm seas, he told the BBC in a radio interview from aboard a cargo vessel that picked him up.
"No way it was a wave," Dawson told the interviewer. "Literally the boat was picked up and flipped."

  adn.com story photo
Mick Dawson aboard Mrs. D's Viking Spirit. His second attempt to row the 23-foot boat across the Pacific failed Monday. (Photo courtesy of Mick Dawson )
Dawson doubted a whale had upended his boat. In the more than three months he'd been rowing east on the open ocean, about 70 whales had come alongside his boat and none had shown the least interest in butting him, he said.

Dawson, who had tried and failed last year to row across the Pacific, was in good shape but "devastated" by the newest failure and sure he would not attempt it a third time, he told the BBC.

He thanked his rescuers, including the U.S. Coast Guard, which deployed two C-130 Hercules airplanes from Air Station Kodiak to find Dawson and coordinate the pickup.

Monday afternoon, Dawson was aboard the Hanjin Philadelphia, a 925-foot German cargo vessel due in Long Beach, Calif., on Friday. Mrs. D's Viking Spirit could not be salvaged, the Coast Guard said.

Dawson began his journey May 6. As an indication of how long he'd been on the water, he started rowing when Alaska schools were weeks from recess, the Alaska Legislature was still in session, and the state's record-breaking fire season lay ahead.

Monday was Day 109, the Ocean Rowing Society says on its Web site, www.oceanrowing.com. Dawson had traveled 3,027 miles as the crow flies, but he'd had to row a total of about 4,130 miles to make that distance, the society said. He had 2,108 linear miles to go. Dawson told the BBC he was six weeks out from San Francisco.

Dawson's boat was a specially built hybrid kayak, said Tom Lynch, the American director of the Ocean Rowing Society. It had a small cabin in the rear and a smaller one up front, both on the same level as the rower, who sat between them.

The boat is "very dangerous in high seas," Lynch said from his home in California. Side-breaking waves can overturn the boat and fill the cabins with water if the hatches are open. But if the hatches are shut tight, the craft is designed to right itself.

"It's incredibly seaworthy," Lynch said.

By midday Sunday, Dawson had endured several days of bad weather and was in a downpour on still waters, he told the BBC.

"It was flattened and misty," Dawson said. He went to his aft cabin to get his camera, and while he was there, the boat suddenly flipped on its side. He was sure it would finish turning and right itself, but it never did, remaining on its side, he said.

Dawson waited in the cabin with some water leaking in, then decided he would have to abandon the boat, he told the BBC. He preferred to do it in daylight.

He donned a survival suit and grabbed his EPIRB -- a device that sends an electronic position indicating radio beacon -- as well as flares and food. He inflated his life raft and climbed in, he said.

He sent out an SOS that got to London and was eventually forwarded to the French coast guard, according to Lynch. He activated the EPIRB and the U.S. Coast Guard picked up that signal from a satellite about 6 p.m., McNeil said. The signal's data indicated where and from whom it was coming.

The Coast Guard sent the two planes the nearly 1,000 miles from Kodiak, staggering their departures. The agency also located the nearest vessel, the Hanjin Philadelphia, about 180 miles away.

Dawson had expected to wait for help for days, he said. The first Hercules, however, was above him at 1:30 a.m., about 12 hours after he capsized.

In a written statement about the rescue, issued Monday, the Coast Guard took the unusual step of itemizing the cost of its mission. The statement's headline read: "Coast Guard coordinates Brit's $84,880 Pacific Ocean rescue."

"We put that out to give people an idea, just a general awareness tool," said Lt. Mike McNeil of the agency's rescue coordination center in Juneau. The Coast Guard, as a matter of policy, does not charge people for rescues, McNeil said.

Dawson said he was "grateful ... a lot of people went through a lot of bother to make sure I'm here."
 

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