Bill Bennett became Commodore of CIYC in 1996. He was a bit different than most Commodores in that nearly all incoming Commodores of the time pretty much stuck to tradition. Only a few came in with lots of new ideas for the club--Bill was in this category. He was full of ideas, some truly great, some semi-great and as this story will show, some just plain lousy.
Bill and his wife, Jean, joined the club in the late 1980's. As the incoming Commodore ten years or so later, Bill saw opportunities to make improvements to the clubhouse and its surroundings. He was a degreed engineer, maybe a structural engineer of some kind. His business was in Alviso where his small company built large things out of steel. I’m pretty sure that many of Silicon Valley’s structures have Bill’s mark on them. Soon he was putting his mark all around and inside the clubhouse.
We needed a really nice BBQ on the patio. Bill built one that must have weighed a ton, almost literally. Lifting the dual hoods was in itself a challenge. Lifting the massive grills to adjust heat was even more of a challenge. But when Bill was done with his cutting and welding, there is no doubt that we had one of the finest BBQ’s in the Delta. The island probably sank another foot when that thing came on board.
Inside the clubhouse, we had a variety of very heavy folding chairs for our sit-down events. In keeping with the “Caliente Way,” some were by one manufacturer, others by another and others still by yet a different builder, each chair having its own dimensions. You could say that they didn’t nest together very well—storage was a real problem. So, Bill welded up three huge roll-around chair holders. His brilliant idea was to hang the chairs upside down on hooks so that they didn’t really need to nest at all. They just hung there, clanging into each other.
Now these chair holders were “built by Bill.” That is to say they were heavy. When loaded with steel chairs the whole rig must have weighed several hundred pounds. But Bill saw this coming and put industrial strength wheels under each rack, the kind that roll and turn very easily. And there were three of these massive contraptions. All this worked pretty well but woe be the person caught between these rolling beasts which were pushed by often over-zealous club members helping to clean up the place after an event. Many of these "helpers" found ways to have too much fun pushing and spinning the racks every which way. When put back in their corner storage area, the building sagged. We were lucky that nobody was killed by one of our rolling chair gizmos. It would have been an awkward eight bells ceremony.
Bill really put his mark on the club when it came to philanthropy and club participation in Delta events. He saw an opportunity to give back to the community with his “Speak-Easy” fund-raisers. The idea was modeled on Driftwood YC’s annual “Make-A-Wish” fund-raiser. Bill was a long-time member of a fraternal organization that supported kids with speaking disorders. He figured that he could promote an event that would attract club members and boaters in the area who would give rides to people who donated to the cause. The money raised would support speech therapy for youngsters. This event went on for a few years and they were mostly well-attended and financially successful. But, it must be said, he didn’t always have the full support of his Board -- maybe because Bill was a real driver and Board members liked to enjoy their weekends in other pursuits. Implementing Bill’s many ideas, always overly grand, was a lot of hard work.
An example of active participation in Delta events was his interest in putting together fantastically decorated boat entries for Bethel Island’s annual Opening Day Parade around the island. “Fantastic” was one of Bill’s favorite words and (not coincidentally) the name of his and Jean’s boat. Perhaps his most fantastic decorating idea was to turn a small runabout into a floating duck. Now this duck wouldn’t just have a head-like piece in front and a few tail feathers stuck out the back. Nope, it would be a fully shaped duck, built in light steel (by Bill of course) and decked out in club colors. There would be nothing visible from the outside of the boat of the operators inside the thing. One of those would be Bill, who was huge (he played football for the legendary Bear Bryant at Alabama.) When he got inside the duck there wasn’t much room left for other things--like air.
As was the case each Opening Day, when the parade came into view, club members would pull themselves away from the bar just in time to watch the show from the deck, cheer the decorated boats they admired as they motored by and then returned to the bar the moment the last boat passed. As this particular parade came around the clubhouse, we awaited our duck in its Caliente colors from the deck. Bill and a mate piloted the duck slowly first toward and then away from our dock giving all a good view and him the adulation he sought (Bill might have thought pretty highly of himself on occasion). Once he passed by, he brought the duck back in line with the other parading boats and we all yelled out to our duck final encouragement, and returned to the bar--as tradition would have it. However, non-traditionally a few minutes later we got a call from someone at a marina a quarter of a mile downstream-- “your duck is acting badly and hit our dock.” Truly worried, some of us managed to move from the bar to go check out what was wrong with the duck. Long story short—Bill had nearly passed out from carbon monoxide poisoning. Fortunately, he was soon revived and our duck was towed home in disgrace. No prize that year.
You couldn’t say that Bill was the reckless type, except for the problem with the airless duck that year. A couple of years later, however, it was time to move closer to family up north. He told all that he didn’t need to truck the boat north, that he would simply motor the 42’ trawler up the coast all the way to Blaine, WA (Canada in easy sight). Having the guts of a gopher, as my mother would say, he simply took off. He was gone for a couple of weeks and then showed up back at the clubhouse one day with quite a story. It was the middle of summer on the California coast. He got as far as Bodega Bay or maybe it was Fort Bragg and the wind was really up and the seas as well. Things weren’t going well. I’m not sure but I think his refrigerator might have come loose, flying around the galley (or was that another character’s story) and causing some concern even for Bill, who piloted from the fly bridge and was never concerned. I believe he just left his boat there for the rest of summer, finally getting it to its new home months later and into the yard for some significant interior work.
Bill passed away a few years ago but if you were to ask any club member around during his tenure, Bill Bennett would be said to be a really solid guy—and a true Caliente Character.