Water Ways

By Ray Pendleton

Saturday, August 14, 1999

Doug Vann was
a big man in
many worlds

JUST in case you didn't know, interference with Hawaii Yacht Club's weekly Friday pau hana "beer can regatta" comes about as often as snow on Diamond Head. But it happened yesterday and the reason couldn't have been more justified -- or sad.

The HYC and most of Oahu's sailors took time out for an offshore scattering of ashes and leis to honor and mourn the loss of one of their most respected members, Doug Vann, who had experienced a fatal cardiac arrest during the previous Friday's race.

Those not close to him may have been unaware that Doug had suffered from an enlarged heart defect since his birth 60 years ago. Over the past decade he had taken experimental medication, and, more recently, had an internal defibrillator implanted to counter occasional bouts of tachycardia, or out-of-control racing of the heart.

Sherry, Doug's wife of nearly 10 years, was driving their Farr 44 Tiare on what became Doug's final sail.

"After he finished supervising the spinnaker set," Sherry said, "Doug experienced the electrical shock of his defibrillator and decided to go below and lay down for while.

"One of our friends aboard, Melinda Kohr, was a doctor and she was with Doug when he stopped breathing. They began CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and we headed back to the club to meet up with the paramedics. He was pronounced dead at the hospital soon after that."

TO explain Doug's impact and loss is akin to describing the facets of a precious stone. His brilliance sparkled in so many diverse directions.

"Dad lived in several very different social worlds," his 32-year-old son, Mike, said. "There was his surfing, his sailing, his academic research, his work on the web and his religion. And in all he showed his love."

Personally, I didn't know Doug Vann, the world-class surfer. But I have seen pictures of him hurtling down giant North Shore waves that put him into a very rarefied category in the surfing community.

I also didn't really know Doug Vann, the professor, who had a Ph.D. in biology. But I have seen his multi-page resume listing the various research grants and contracts he had been awarded over the years. The total was nearly $5 million, so I imagine that put him into a rather lofty position in the academic community, as well.

Doug's long involvement with Buddhism was also something unknown to me.

"His faith was very important to him," Sherry said. "And he had become a central figure in Vipassana Hawaii."

ON the other hand, I was well acquainted with Doug Vann, the webmaster. Over the past half dozen years, he and his pal Walt Niemczura created world-class Internet web sites for the Transpac and Kenwood Cup yacht races. Those web sites have revolutionized the media's methods for gathering event information.

And finally, of course like so many others, I knew, and will deeply miss, Captain Doug Vann, the life-long sailor. I have seen over and over the numbers of people with whom he unselfishly shared his love of the ocean.

"People meant a lot to Doug," Sherry said. "He took everybody under his wing. Everyone who sailed aboard Tiari became family.

"So even when his defibrillator went off and we asked him if we should go back in, he said, 'No, keep racing.' That's the kind of guy Doug was."

Aloha Doug Vann -- you were the kind of person we all should be.

Ray Pendleton is a free-lance writer based in Honolulu.
His column runs Saturdays in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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