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A wheelchair secure tunaman;
Maine lobsterman's first boat

Patrick Simmons, a Yarmouth, Maine, tuna fisherman finally got the boat he wanted. Simmons had been fishing out of a deep-V hull, a "roly-poly thing," says Bruce Farrin of Farrin's Boatshop in Walpole, Maine. Such a boat wasn't the best match for Simmons, who is disabled and operates in a wheelchair.

"He wanted a boat with a more stable platform and wanted a boat that goes good," says Farrin. That turned out to be a 34 Calvin Beal that Farrin's Boatshop started last fall and launched at the end of May. This isn't the first hull the boatyard has finished off for a disabled fisherman. Farrin completed a Wayne Beal 36 for Friendship lobsterman Danny Reed 12 years ago.

On Simmons' Kelley Anne, Farrin's shop custom built everything but the hull. Standard deck and cabin units that are available with a hull wouldn't work because Simmons is operating the boat at wheelchair level. To build the navigation station, the yard crew had Simmons sit in his wheelchair in the cabin so they could make various measurements, such as "eye level, line of sight and comfortable reaching range," says Farrin, to the controls and steering wheel.

"He has good visibility through the windows, but we kept them high enough that someone standing up can see out, too." (Simmons takes one or two people with him on his fishing trips.)

Because the Kelley Anne is a lot more stable than Simmons' previous boat, he can operate it about 80 percent of the time, as opposed to 20 percent for the deep-V boat. To help hold down his wheelchair, there's a U-shaped metal bar on the cabin sole in front of the nav station, which a bar on the front end of the wheelchair runs through. "That holds the wheelchair down and keeps it from going over backwards, and he can lock the wheels of the wheelchair," Farrin says.

When it gets too rough for that arrangement to work, "there is what we call the safety zone where Patrick can put his wheelchair. It's on the port side and in the forward corner of the day berth," Farrin says. "A special locking device keeps the wheelchair from tipping, and there are a couple of eyebolts that you can use a ratchet strap with for the wheelchair."

Out on the deck is an electric reel that Simmons uses for fishing and a 12-inch hydraulic hauler on a davit for bringing in the anchor, or pulling a tuna through the transom's tuna door. The hauler is set up with a spring-loaded valve that automatically returns to the off position, if Simmons takes his hand off it.

Using the transom door and an aluminum ramp, Simmons wheels himself from a dockside float onto the boat. A folding aluminum ramp allows him to enter the wheelhouse. Heat outlets around the wheelhouse ensure that Simmons is always in a warm spot, because quadriplegics have poor circulation.

When his boat was completed, Farrin remembers, "Patrick said, 'There are so many others out there. If they can see this, they know they just don't have to sit at home in their wheelchair.'" — Michael Crowley