A passion for bass fishing is what keeps Bill Easter on the water every chance he gets. Those chances got slimmer for the Palatka, Florida-based land surveyor the day he decided to skip a day’s fishing to help out his parents. While en route to their home, a fellow motorist ran a stop sign and T-boned Easter’s pickup truck, bursting his L1 vertebra and his state of independent living — let alone boating. The 35-year-old father of two was left with no movement from the waist down and no financial relief from the uninsured driver who hit him.
It was a rough deal said Easter’s longtime fishing partner Glenn Browne, who, after three years of prodding, got him back on the water. “But Bill’s a tough guy.” The pair started by fishing some Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) bass events and now get out on the water on a regular basis. Forced by his injury to give up his career as a surveyor, Easter now builds and repairs fishing rods when not serving as the primary care provider for his 88-year-old mother.
How does Easter continue to enjoy boating? What are some other solutions physically challenged boaters employ? This story provides a glimpse into the lives of some of the world’s most dedicated boating enthusiasts.
“Fishing is what got me back on the boat,” said Easter, who still has his 1991 300-series Ranger but does most of his fishing from Browne’s SeaArk. “And that’s the challenge: I can’t do it by myself.”
Easter, who has regained some mobility below his waist, prefers to get aboard a boat while it’s still on the trailer, putting his back against the side amidships and using a KeelGuard FlexStep (keelguard.com) as a step up and his upper body strength to get his torso atop the gunwale. When boarding Browne’s or another person’s boat, he uses a sturdy, flat-topped cooler as a step up.
“Once my butt’s over the boat’s side, I can flip my legs over and crawl into a seat,” said Easter, who rotates driving duties with Browne. When he’s up on the bow seat fishing, Easter operates a Minn Kota bow-mounted trolling motor he adapted by extending the cables to the control buttons, which he Velcros to the deck below his foot. Though he can’t move his legs, he can move his foot up and down.
To steer the electric motor, Easter uses a Pro-Kon-Troll (prokontroll.com) control arm with a push/pull pivot connection that allows the angler to turn the motor shaft without having to swing the steering arm to the side. “That’s a huge help because it keeps me from leaning and getting off-balance to make a turn,” he explained.
“The biggest obstacle is having to count on someone else to go (boating) with,” Easter lamented. “I have two or three friends who would help me with anything, but they can’t be there all the time, and when I want to go fishing, they sometimes can’t.
“But I tell you, it’s definitely worth it when I can get it worked out with a friend and we head out in the boat,” he added. “I love the outdoors, love to hunt and love to fish. And I tell you what: I’d kick hunting to the curb if I could fish every day.”
Like a lot of us, Andrew Streeter laments that finding time to get out onto the water is what keeps him from spending more time boating.
“We actually live on a lake,” explained the Minnesota-based ad agency professional, “but between my work and family obligations, I find that making time to get out on the water is a challenge.”
The fact that finding time represents the biggest obstacle standing between Streeter and his beloved water sports speaks volumes about the 28-year-old’s attitude. Being forced to use a power hoist and a helping hand simply to board his boat merely ranks as “an inconvenience,” one he has faced for the decade since a car accident left him paralyzed from the shoulders down — that and finding a boat that could accommodate his limited mobility.
At the time of Streeter’s accident, his father, Todd, worked at a local marine dealership that sells Campion boats. The elder Streeter got in touch with Campion President Brock Elliott at Campion’s British Columbia headquarters and asked what could be done to allow his son to continue boating.
“The challenge was getting Andy on and off a boat,” Elliott said. “He wanted to remain in his wheelchair when aboard, and to be able to get on and off the boat at various destinations, not just at his home dock. We needed a loading device that was boat-based and able to lift a 450-pound power chair — plus Andy.”
Elliott located, and had his engineers at Campion customize, a power lift they stress-tested to 950 pounds that could accommodate a power wheelchair. They secured the lift’s base to the stringer, transom and deck of a Campion 602 Explorer model they customized for the project, with a section of the floor reinforced with an aluminum plate. The lift is portable, weighs 45 pounds and fits in a “hockey size” duffle bag while the boat is underway. The listing that occurs when Streeter is being transferred from dock to boat, or vice versa, is dampened by using a hook system Campion developed that anchors the boat’s gunwale to the dock. The center-console’s canvas was adapted to offer Streeter, who sits next to the helm, additional protection from the elements. Other than those changes, the chair’s weight keeps it in place in the cockpit, and no other adaptations have been required to accommodate Streeter’s passion for boating.
“I just love being on the water,” he said, “pulling tubers and skiers, fishing; simply being out on the water again and driving around makes it all worthwhile.
“There are all kinds of equipment out there — do your research and find the adaptive accessories available to allow you to enjoy whatever sport you want to stay involved with,” he added. “I haven’t found much that I haven’t been able to do since my accident.”
Living Their Dream
Jack and Sheila Peek always dreamed about living part of their lives on the water. The California couple is living that dream, spending half the year on Kentucky’s Lake Cumberland aboard a custom-built 80-foot Sumerset houseboat and exploring the lake in a 30-foot aluminum center-console trimaran.
“We’ve got the only houseboat on the lake with a commercial passenger elevator,” exclaimed Jack of the floating home christened Peek’s Retreat. The big boat’s tender, the sterndrive-powered trimaran known as Little Peeker, has a head, an ice maker, a freezer, a granite-top wet bar, a livewell and an integrated, powered boarding ramp that flips off the bow and onto the dock.
The latter is to allow Jack to access Little Peeker unassisted. Eight years ago he was standing in front of the pickup truck he had pulled off the side of the road when an 18-wheeler plowed into it. The impact pushed him through a set of guardrail cables that sheared both legs off above the knee, forcing the active boater, angler and camper to rely on a wheelchair to get around. He also lost the sight in one eye, and lately has been undergoing chemotherapy for an unrelated issue.
The doghouse of Little Peeker is built around a fully enclosed, handicapped-accessible head, and the custom helm seat slides aft to accommodate a passenger or serve as a fighting chair when Jack wheels up to the roomy side console to take control. The boat was built from the water up to allow the 67-year-old to cruise and fish single-handedly.
“Like I’d ever let him,” commented his bride of 33 years.
To which the spunky boater, whom fellow dock mates at the popular floating resort refer to as the “Mayor of State Dock,” replied, “But I could if I wanted to.”