I lost a good friend recently. I know this is probably not the kind of article that you were expecting, but when Capt. Bill Schilling lost his fight with cancer, I felt a need to tell you about this man, this fisherman. The name Schilling no doubt rings a bell with many of you and well it should. His family owned Schilling Boathouse, and if you remember that time then you probably ran into Bill as he drove the forklift that dropped boats in the water.
So what was my relationship with Bill? That is a hard question because I really don't remember when I first met him -- only because it was so darn long ago. I guess we really spent the most time together after he purchased that beautiful 52-foot sport fishing boat called The Fiesta. Unlike so many other charter captains who opt for fiberglass boats, Bill spent years revamping the wooden Fiesta to its original splendor. That labor of love should speak volumes about Bill. He treasured the ocean and the history of anglers from days gone by. I am willing to bet that Ernest Hemingway himself would have flipped if he had ever had the chance to fish on such a boat with its distinctive flared bow and broad beam.
Bill was a different from most boat captains. Think about the stereotypical captain -- gruff, loud and calloused. Bill had none of these attributes. He was gentle, quiet and almost overly sensitive. I can't tell you how many times I saw tears running down Bill's face. It was just the way he was. Even when he found out that cancer had become a part of his life, there was an optimism that I dare say I would never have had our roles been reversed. The first surgery alone lasted an incredible 28 hours and when he woke up, he learned that they had removed his jaw bone, reconstructeda new one from part of his leg and hip and he had lost one eye. I think it hurt me more than he it hurt him.
But Bill still had his sense of humor and the way he saw it was remarkable. Best put, he acted like he had simply gone to the dentist to have his teeth cleaned or something.
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If there was one day that truly bonded us forever, it was Oct. 1, 2005. We took The Fiesta out for a day of bottom fishing. On board were locals Charlie Monzel, Jimmy McIntire, myself and my best friend, Warren Matthews. It was a picture-perfect day. The ocean was smooth as silk, and we had stopped on a ledge about 20 miles offshore in hopes of bringing up a grouper or two. The sonar showed fish stacked up on the bottom and as soon as our baits hit the bottom, wham! We were bringing in fish one after another.
The radio was playing Jimmy Buffett tunes and every one of us had smiles that said, "This is what life I all about." It was, simply put, a perfect day to be on the ocean.
I guess it was around 2 p.m. when Warren sat down to take a break from fishing when it happened. I had just lost a big fish and my rig. I turned to ask Warren if he would hand me a new rig when he gave me an odd look and died right then and there of a massive heart attack. He was only 56 years old. The next three hours were by far the strangest of all of our lives. The radio and electronics failed, the Coast Guard wouldn't send a chopper and though we all performed CPR, it was to no avail.
I think that was the first time I really saw just who Bill Schilling was, and that day forever bonded us together like Super Glue. When you share an experience like that, there is no longer any reason for secrets and that was our relationship from that day on. Bill wasn't a perfect angel, but who is? He lived a life that was exactly the way he wanted to live his life. Not many of us can say that.
I hope I have given you some insight into this unique individual and just writing about him has helped me tremendously. I owed him this tribute and by the time you read this, his ashes will become part of the great ocean that was his home. All I can hope is that tiny parts of him will be carried throughout all the waters of the world that he never got to visit.
Bye, Bill, it was quite the ride.
God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.