Service recalls UH sailor's character


POSTED: Thursday, November 13, 2008

Every year there is one team member everyone rallies around, said University of Hawaii sailing coach Andy Johnson. This year sophomore Peter “;P.J.”; Wenner was the “;heart and soul”; of the team.

Wenner's teammates gathered yesterday evening at a memorial service with about 200 others on the UH-Manoa campus to remember the guy with a smile who loved people, life and sailing.

Wenner died Tuesday at Straub Clinic & Hospital, the result of a sailing accident off Waikiki on Saturday.

His teammates were at the hospital during his final hours.

“;So many kids stayed by his bedside with us, praying,”; said his mother, Susan Wenner. “;They were a source of strength for us.”;

Jesse Andrews, assistant coach, described Wenner as easygoing, “;a mixture of kind and funny and competitive at the same time.”;

Said teammate Ryan Wild, 22, a senior, “;He's such an overwhelmingly positive person. It really had a positive impact on the team.”;

Wild was on the recreational boat with Wenner the day of the accident, 1.5 miles off Waikiki Beach. The high-performance skiff, which capsizes easily if not moving forward, had already capsized five times that day. On the recreational boat were teammates, instructors — all experienced sailors.

Wenner, wearing a harness, was standing off the edge of the boat. When the boat started to tip, he knelt down, and the harness hook got caught in the weblike netting that stretches between the hull and the outriggers of the boat, Wild said.

“;Almost immediately someone from the chase boat jumped off and tried to save him,”; Wild said. Everybody already in the water dived down and “;tried as hard as they could to free P.J.”;

It took a while before they figured out where the problem was.

“;It was twisted so tight, we couldn't free that,”; he said. “;We were all diving underneath,”; Wild said, but without goggles “;we couldn't see how to free him.”;

Wenner was trapped underwater for about five minutes.

Once he was on the surface, they placed him on the motorized chase boat. Three friends performed CPR, and Wild drove to shore, where they were met by an ambulance and fire rescue personnel.

Wenner was taken off a respirator when his family was told he was brain dead.

“;He taught us how to live and also how to die,”; Susan Wenner said of her son.

The team decided to participate this weekend in a sailing competition in Santa Barbara, Calif., because P.J. would have wanted it. The Pacific collegiate teams will honor him by sailing with their flags emblazoned with “;P.J.”;

Many of the collegiate sailors competed with Wenner, who grew up sailing competitively in California.

The 25 UH sailors will join his family again Tuesday for his funeral service in Los Angeles.