The 'Semper Fi' sets sail for veterans

(l-r) Mike Mirabella, 77, and Bill Schultz (74) pose before they set sail on a 780-mile adventure in the Semper Fi. The pair has been fast friends since they both joined the Marines in 1961. (Photo: Richard Simms)

It was a small crowd gathered at a Tennessee Riverpark dock Monday morning, but it was clear something special was happening. Family and friends gathered to say farewell as Bill Schultz and Mike Mirabella set off to "live their dream" - a 780 mile voyage from Chattanooga to Mobile, Ala.

Bill Schultz, 74, has dreamed of making such a trip for more than 30 years. The spry senior, with just a little resemblance to Gilligan, was clearly excited as his dream was about to become reality. He said his boss, Mike Simmons at A1 Towing, provided the inspiration to finally pull the trigger on the trip.

"For seven years Mike's been telling me I need to get on with this trip. He said, 'You're not getting any younger so you need to go on and do this.' That's one of the biggest encouragements I've had to live my dream and get this off my bucket list."

Then Schultz's voice cracked and quavered with emotion as he added, "Truthfully, this is the only thing I've ever had on my bucket list."

His companion on the 19-foot Islander cuddy cabin vessel is Mike Mirabella. The pair met when they both joined the Marine Corp in 1961. They have been fast friends ever since.

Their trip is dedicated to raising awareness, and money, for other veterans in need. They are raising money for the Chattanooga Rescue Mission and the Tennessee Valley Veterans Association. You can learn more, and donate, on their Facebook page or their GoFundMe page.

Schultz bought the boat just for this trip and they named it "Semper Fi," the well-known Marine Corp motto - shortened from Semper Fidelas that translates to "always faithful." That's the real reason Mirabella, 77, is traveling along with Schultz.

"It's on Bill's Bucket List and he wanted me to go with him. So I said, 'Okay, let's go," said Mirabella. "[Semper Fi] is about me and Bill. It's about us. We're always faithful to each other. You never leave a man behind."

They estimate the voyage to Mobile will take at least seven days and perhaps up to ten days depending upon weather and the time it takes to pass through the many locks along the way. By comparison to some, it's really not a long trip. There are Chattanooga-area boaters (in much larger vessels) who have done the entire Great Loop - 6,000 miles all the way around the Eastern United States. But for most, including Schultz and Mirabella, living on the river for up to ten days and traveling 780 miles would be, or is, epic.

"There's a lot of boating and a lot of adventures here in Chattanooga," said Mirabella. "So we thought we'd take an adventure."

"We're just two old fools. We almost left on April Fool's Day but we decided to wait until today," said Schultz with a grin.

They will make stops at marinas along the way when possible and sleep on the boat when they can't. I figured the two former Marines might have some K-rations along.

"We joked about that," said Schultz. "But the K-rations we had in 1961 were made in 1944 so I don't think we'd want any more of those."

Schultz said his only worry is the possibility of a breakdown. But he said that's negated by the TowBoatUS membership card in his wallet. That means a free tow or other on-the-water assistance is just a cell phone call away.

"I am definitely a member of TowBoatUS," said Schultz. "That was the first thing I did when I planned this trip."

Schultz's confidence, however, is not completely shared by his wife, Evelyn.

She paused a LONG time when I asked if she was worried.

Finally she said, "Let's just say I'm concerned. Lord bless their trip is all I can say."

Again, all donations the pair raises will go to the Chattanooga Rescue Mission and the Tennessee Valley Veterans Association. You can donate here [HOTLINK:].

Follow the pair's travels on their Facebook page.

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