CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Bachmans -- son Eric, left, mom Ann and dad Bill -- are fixtures at the Kaneohe Yacht Club. It's a comfortable hangout for a family that loves the water.
Bill and Ann’s excellent water adventure
Bill Bachman's got arms like Popeye, which is why he can hold a heavy pneumatic nail gun as though it's made of Nerf material. I've got arms honed to finely tuned noodles by years of typing, which is why Bill takes the nail gun from me before I fire a nail over the fence that "we're" building into the neighbor's house -- or cat.
He finishes up nailing redwood planks to the fence like a machine-gunner. Bill's my go-to guy when there are fences to be built or windows or drywall to be installed around my house. I use Bill because he's got the two qualities I need in a handyman: He's handy and he can never say no.
At the Kaneohe Yacht Club, where Bill and his wife, Ann, hang out, Bill's inability to say no is well known and frequently imposed upon.
Just the other day, a thumping big steel buoy in the middle Kaneohe Bay got loose and floated away. George Nottingham, one of the club's ancient mariners and head of the "marks and markers" committee, came looking for someone to help him retrieve the escaped buoy in the blustery, rainy weather. Bill couldn't say no, even though he had been up since 4 a.m. working his day job as a construction supervisor and was clearly beat. (I was there when George showed up like a one-man press gang, but I know how to say no in several different languages.)
In the past year, Bill has taken to wearing a shirt that says, "Remind Me Not to Volunteer," but it doesn't work.
"It's guys like Bill that keep the club going," George says.
Which is kind of ironic, because when Bill took summer sailing lessons at the club when he was just a kid from Kailua in the '60s, he couldn't even imagine becoming a member. "We couldn't afford it," he says. Now he can't imagine not being around water: in it, on it and under it. Water is the defining element of his family.
He was born in Pasadena, Calif., but came to Hawaii when he was 3. His father, an anesthesiologist at a children's hospital, died when Bill was 7. He attended Beerman's Grove School in Kailua, where he didn't notice little Ann Batterson. He sort of noticed her later at Kailua Intermediate. By the time they both went to Kailua High School, he really noticed her, to the point where he asked her if he could give her a ride home in his mom's big white Pontiac. The first time he asked, Ann said no. But a few days later he asked again, and Ann, tired of walking home, agreed.
"His friend was sitting in the front seat, and he told him to get out," Ann says. "I got the front seat. Then he asked me to the prom. I had to ask my mother because I had never even been on a date before."
It was love, folks. And in 1975, five years after they graduated from high school, the Rev. Claude Du Teil -- who later became famous for launching his Peanut Butter Ministry to help the homeless -- launched Bill and Ann on the ship of matrimony. A clumsy metaphor, I know, but I have to get back to the water thing. Because water flows through this story in sometimes weird and scary ways.
Bill grew up bodysurfing Sandy Beach and scuba diving, and by the time he was 16, he was already a certified senior lifeguard. In fact, his first rescue happened at Sandy's. A kid was well on his way to drowning when Bill pulled him out of the water. It wouldn't be his last, and the next one would hit too close to home.
CHARLES MEMMINGER / CMEMMINGER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Ann Bachman, sitting under a digital boat race clock, keeps track of boats' arrival times. Both have been faithful volunteers at sailing and race events over the years.
Four years after his son, Eric, was born, Bill came home from work to a house his mother was staying in that had a swimming pool.
"I was reading a letter from my sister, looking out at the pool from time to time at Eric playing," Bill says. "Then one time I look and he's not there. He was at the bottom of the pool. I ran through a screen door, ripping off five toenails, and jumped in the pool."
"Bill revived him," says Ann, still kind of shaky thinking about the incident. She watched as her son was taken away on a gurney to a waiting ambulance. Eric recovered, but here's the chicken-skin part: Eric became a lifeguard working at a pool on the Kaneohe Marine Base. There, Eric ended up saving a 4-year-old girl from drowning at the bottom of a slide.
"He's like me," Bill says. "He didn't think it was a big thing, just part of the job."
In 1989 a sister, Lisa, was born, and she took to the water, also, although in a less dramatic fashion than her brother.
"I knew from the get-go Lisa was going to be a water rat," Ann says.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Eric, left, Ann and Bill Bachman walk the pier at the Kaneohe Bay Yacht Club.
Throughout the '90s, Bill worked construction and Ann worked as a school crossing guard trying to make ends meet. She was named Monitor of the Year for three years by the Honolulu Police Department. They scraped up enough money to join the Kaneohe Yacht Club, where Eric and Lisa blossomed into fishlike beings, swimming, sailing, diving, fishing and skiing.
But then fate played its nasty hand and sent what should have been a harmless flu bug into Bill's heart, destroying 35 percent of it. Heart surgery saved him but forced him to cut back on some activities. He doesn't dive for black coral anymore, for instance.
"I could probably go down to 30 feet but not 240 like I used to," he says. "I don't think anyone belongs at 240 feet anymore."
Lisa's away at college on the mainland now, after helping crew a KYC boat to two wins in Hawaii's legendary Lipton Cup sailboat race. Eric went to Honolulu Community College and specializes in small-boat repair.
And Bill and Ann hang out at a little Windward boat club, helping run sailing and fishing events, working on the docks, retrieving wayward buoys and just being generally amazed at how water has played such an important role in their lives.
"It's pulled us together as a family," says Bill.
Yeah, yeah, I say. When are you going to get to that drywall job at my house?
He flexes those Popeye arms in a threatening way, but I know he can't say no.
new book, "Hey Waiter! There's an Umbrella in My Drink!" is available at island bookstores and online book retailers. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org