Sailing Around Oahu For Dad

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - October 15, 2008
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Mark Denzer in an El Toro

James Hayes Denzer was an old salt with a distinctive white beard. He was an adventurer who taught his sons the true meaning of living life to its fullest.

“Dad was the guy who wanted to try it all, whether it be cruising across the Pacific Ocean or tackling a rough coastline,” says son Mark Denzer. “You name it and he was down with it. He was notorious for either being brave or crazy.”

It is a trait deeply rooted in the Denzer family.

Mark Denzer was born on the East Coast and spent his childhood sailing and fishing in chilly waters.

“My dad used to buy old wooden fishing boats, fix them up and sail them in Chesapeake Bay,” recalls Denzer. “Our family moved here in 1965 so we went from Chesapeake Bay to Kaneohe Bay.”


The Denzers continued their ocean adventures in the Pacific blue, sailing to remote locations across the Hawaiian island chain; areas accessible only by boat. Dad was always up for something new and often brought his boys along for the ride.

“In the late 1960s and early ‘70s, my dad, my brother and I sailed around the Islands countless times,” remembers Denzer. “I have fond memories of fishing, sailing and visiting isolated areas off Kahoolawe and Molokai.”

Shortly after retiring on the Big Island, life took a sharp and unexpected turn. James Denzer was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

“We could see the physical and coordination problems early, the little jerkiness to his step,” recalls Mark. “Each day his condition worsened.”

This past July, James Denzer suffered a severe stroke. Two weeks later he died at the age of 84. “It’s almost a blessing he

died of the stroke instead of the Parkinson’s,” says Denzer. “It was so hard at the end for my mom (Tempe) and the rest of the family. It’s always tragic when you lose somebody, but more tragic that Parkinson’s took away a big portion of my dad’s life at the end.”

Mark Denzer continues to compete in local sailing races, but his next adventure will be in memory of his dad. Denzer is preparing to sail a modified El Toro around Oahu. Some say he’s “crazy” to even attempt the feat. Sailing an El Toro around Oahu would be like riding your son’s tri-cycle on the H-1 Freeway during rush hour.


“The El Toro is a little boat that looks like a bathtub,” chuckles Denzer.

“It’s a training vessel used in junior sailing programs around Oahu and its top hull speed is 3.6 knots. It’s going to be a challenge aroundMakapu’u and Ka’ena Points.” Denzer estimates the 108-mile journey will take him about 50 hours of sailing.

“I’ve committed to doing it without setting foot on Oahu,” he says. “My chase boat will be used for safety and survival but will not advance my effort in anyway.”

Denzer is driven by the memory of his father and hopes to raise awareness and funds for the National Parkinson Foundation. Denzer is an approved community fundraiser for the foundation.

“I want to make a few bucks for the foundation and at the same time commemorate my dad,” says Denzer. He pauses and laughs, “I’m 53 years old going on 19. I forgot to grow up.”

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Deep roots will do that.

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