Member Origin Stories – Peter Wadman

Pete, as he was known was a very accomplished sailor and skier in his university days and loved both sports.  He farmed at Herstmonceux and regularly sailed his Contenders at the Club.

Unfortunately, Pete suffered from Huntington’s disease which is hereditary (his father died of it) and is progressive and debilitating affecting his muscle control.  It was heart-breaking to see his steady decline, a little bit worse each year.  Pete was determined, to continue farming, sailing and skiing for as long as he could.  He was one of the most obstinate and determined persons you would ever meet.


He sailed every weekend, either at the Club, or on the Contender open meeting circuit where he was known, affectionally, as Wobbly Pete.  His condition meant that his upper body would twitch and make uncontrolled movements.  You could think that he was drunk and that was clearly the conclusion that a group of Dutch sailors had reached when we were there for a championship.  I watched them watching him and having a chuckle.  Now I’m not saying that alcohol didn’t play a part, Pete loved a pint, but that was a minor factor in his behaviour.  His condition tired him out so by the end of the evening you would find him slumped in an easy chair, fast asleep, firmly grasping his pint to his chest, never spilling a drop.

On the ski slopes he was fearless.  Somehow his skis would track perfectly while his upper body was all over the place.  Often, we would be at the top of a black run thinking this is going to be interesting when Pete would arrive and go straight down and wiping out half way so we had to follow.  He seemed to be indestructible and fearless.  One year he arrived wearing a large knee brace.  He had been skiing with his university friends a few weeks earlier and injured his knee but insisted on doing another week with the brace on.

It was heart-breaking to see the progress of the disease.  Here was a very intelligent capable man who could not get his body to do what he what he wanted but who was determined not to give up trying. 

The last time he came skiing with us he could only manage one circuit of the nursery slope.  He bought his last Contender in 2003.  By then he was no longer allowed to drive, much to our relief, for his sake, and for other road users, so Graham Tomlin drove him to Bough Beech Sailing Club where he tried to sail it but it was impossible.  He made his mother promise not to sell it so that it would be there for him when he got better.

He lost his fight with this cruel disease in 2009.  The chapel at the crematorium was packed, every seat filled and others standing in aisles, all there to remember this remarkable man and show the deep affection that everyone had for him.  One who had been dealt a deadly hand in life and who would have had every reason to feel sorry for himself but there was never an ounce of self-pity.  At times he had to vent his frustration but never once did I hear him complain about the hand he had been dealt.  A truly remarkable man.

To keep his memory alive in the Club and in the British Contender fleet the Contender sailors at the Club presented 2 trophies, Pete’s Pot to be awarded to the overnight leader in the Contender open meeting and another, the Peter Wadman Tankard, as a club trophy.  Dave Pike bought his Contender and sailed it at the Club for several years before selling it to Colin Gates who sailed it until last year when he moved onto an Aero.  Then, this winter, when the sail shed was cleared out, a sail for one of his earlier Contenders turned up.  It must have been there for over 10 years. That might be the last of his procession that remained at the Club but his memory will live on in our hearts.