The Blind Fishing Boat was a real hit at the show! In addition to numerous enquiries about the boat itself, the general consensus is that the concept is fantastic.
I had the Boat rigged up with bow and stern lights, seat cushions, oars, some fishing rods, the Minn Kota and battery box, a couple bumpers, and a boat hook. I also had the Porta-Dolly wheels installed. Thanks to The Chandlery, a premier boat outfitting supply store here in Ottawa, I’m lacking for nothing in terms of boating equipment. They even provided two hand-held VHF water-proof radios.
While there weren’t too many enquiries about the Minn Kota Maxxum 40 lb thrust trolling motor provided by Minn Kota, (everyone is more than familiar with this brand), I was able to speak to a number of boater fishers about the Minn Kota’s new “Digitizer” battery saver and the autopilot available on bow mount units. I also pointed out the weedless wedge propeller that serves as a battery power saver – especially for me as I’m often right in the weeds.
Even though I never had the Lowrance X510C fish finder on display, I did tell everyone, as part of my general presentation, about Lowrance supplying me with the unit, and how Compusult in Newfoundland, a world leader in making electronics talk, has agreed to look into getting the new X510C talking. The new Lowrance units have an ethernet port and Compusult is pretty sure they can fabricate a plug-in speech synthesizer for the Lowrance. Many of the fishers I spoke with expressed interest in a talking fish finder for the simple reason that many would rather not have to look at the display.
We didn’t have much room between the boat at the back of the booth and the table at the front, so I tilted the boat towards the front with a couple of my plastic packing boxes. We also decided that placing the decals on the side of the boat at this point would defeat the purpose as no one would be able to see them. We decided instead to lay the decals across the seat cushions, which worked well.
I included on the 8-foot table a couple water-proof tactile maps of lakes that my friend Marco and I made using my thermo paper and tactile enhancer. Also on the table, from left to right, I had the Blind Fishing Boat 1-pagers, my led line for checking depth, the two tactile maps, a beautiful display box about 30″ x 24″ with a glass top containing my electronics, my business cards, a collection box for the Mira foundation that trains my guide dogs, some of their brochures, my automobile reverse sensor stuck to the corner of the collection box which beeped every time someone stood in front of the box, and a beeping tip-up Marco modified for ice fishing. (A big thanks to the Bi-Town Museum for the loan of the display case.)
Under the boat I had a set of computer speakers and a digital recorder playing back on a continuous loop a recording I made using my talking GPS and compass, and my beeping sonar and locator tags. You could also hear seagulls and the Rideau River in the background. In the back corner of the booth I had my “installation”, a tri-pod holding up a white cane, fishing rod and boat oar, in sort of a star formation, to symbolize the “Blind Fishing Boat”. I had just enough room at the front right for a couple chairs and a mat for the dog to lie on.
The dog was a great lure as many came over to the booth just to see him, and then I would take them on the tour, starting with the maps, then the display case and ending with the boat. Everyone thought it was just great, and most left a donation in the Mira collection box.
I also took the time to give the smaller kids a lesson about guide dogs, what they do, and how you shouldn’t pet them when they are working. I would then give the kids one of my business cards and explain to them how the braille on the card worked. One young sighted boy, maybe 6, was able to tell me what some of the braille letters were. His parents said that he was very interested in both braille and hieroglyphics and took every opportunity he could to teach himself about these two unusual communication mediums.
While I didn’t meet any blind people directly, I would say about eight visitors admitted to me at some point during our conversation that they were losing their sight. Another 4-dozen or so spoke to me about friends, relatives or direct family members who were losing their sight or who were already living without sight. I invited each to take a card and 1-pager and suggested they encourage those they know with sight loss to visit my web site to learn more about the Blind Fishing Boat and how to fish without sight. I also asked that they submit any fishing tips or technology suggestions to the site and that I would be adding these to the site as they came in.
The display case on the table held the two VHF radios from the Chandlery, the Trekker talking GPS PDA and Bluetooth antenna from HumanWare, the talking colour identifier, the beeping tags, one of two handheld Miniguide sonar devices from Sendero Group, and the talking compass. I also had clipped to my fishing vest a small speaker into which I had plugged in a second MiniGuide sonar device that I allowed visitors to try out. Each visitor managed to master the device within a minute, and they were greatly impressed with its accuracy and responsiveness. I also think it gave everyone a better feeling about the Blind Fishing Boat in general knowing that I had access to such fantastic technology.
The tactile numbers on the two water-proof maps of the lakes corresponded with GPS points created with the Trekker talking GPS system. When I explained how I could use the Trekker to navigate from one point to another, and how the talking compass would assist in orientation, as well as serve as a back-up, people could instantly relate to the method of navigating as most people are now familiar with the power of GPS in cars and on boats.
My friend Marco was instrumental in ensuring the exhibit flowed smoothly. From transporting the Boat and exhibit gear to and from the show, helping me set up and tare down, alerting me to visitors to the booth with our code word, “fish on”, making sure I was well fed and hydrated, and keeping an eye on things over-all. In spite of my constantly suggesting to Marco that he go explore the show, he was seldom gone for more than five minutes at any one time. I for sure owe Marco a big thanks – he’s a great friend for sure.
With the Senators playing in their second play-off game Saturday afternoon at 3:00, the show attendance fell off to about 10% of what it had been earlier in the day. I took the opportunity to visit the Pleasure Craft Operators Card testing facility just down the isle from my booth. They readily agreed to facilitate my taking the test by their reading me the questions and recording the answers. Marco left me in their hands and 25 minutes later returned when he heard the brass bell ring out as I successfully completed the test – tying the highest score obtained on the test that weekend with 34 out of 36. Experience, the material I was able to access through the Internet and Marco’s patient tutoring paid off. Marco described for me the shapes and colours of the various navigation markers and what each means.
On Sunday I met the gentleman who was giving the Musky seminars at the show. His wife brought him to the booth, and after I gave the 3-minute talk, he extended his hand to me and said that he was greatly impressed. We spoke about my possibly going with him Musky fishing and that he would give some thought to Musky fishing techniques that don’t involve sight. We exchanged cards and agreed that we would be in contact again soon.
A musky charter would mean a total of two charters for me so far this year with fishing pros. I already have a charter arranged with another local Bass pro. Going fishing with these experts presents a great opportunity for me to gain some valuable experience. The challenge would be for the pro to come up with a successful day of fishing using techniques friendly to fishers without sight. I’d report on these outings on my website so that others without sight could benefit from my experience and the wisdom of the pros.
While Friday and Saturday saw mostly fishers and their families visiting the booth, Sunday presented a slightly different profile of show attendee. These later visitors were more boating enthusiasts, which had me spending far more time talking about the various features of the Porta-Bote itself; the different sizes, capacities, colours and weights, as well as the rugged nature of the material, its design, stability and multiple uses. I’m sure there were at least ten people by the end of the Show who are now seriously considering buying a Porta-Bote.
Quite a few of the Fish Hawk members attending the Carp Show came by the booth. Saturday night on the Fish Hawk forum the Blind Fishing Boat was mentioned as a “must see”. Others agreed that the Blind Fishing Boat was by far one of the more interesting exhibits at the show. I also received quite a few notes of support and encouragement, as well as offers of assistance.
Trout season opens shortly and I hope to be catching some from my Boat. The next public event for the Blind Fishing Boat will be the launch of the website, which will involve sending out announcements through the email and posting an announcement of the launch on a number of fishing forums.
Following the launch of the Web site, there will be the Christening of the Boat itself, tentatively scheduled for Friday, May 25 at noon. The week after the Christening, there is the Blind Anglers International Tournament on June 1-3 on the Ottawa River about 2 hours West of Ottawa. There will be about 35 Bass Pros in attendance with their boats and about 70 anglers without sight from across Ontario.
The Blind Fishing Boat will be the only boat of its type at the tournament, and the only boat being operated by a fisher without sight. Given the large number of expensive boats that will be on the water that weekend, I’ve made arrangements to have a second boat follow me around for the day. This will also allow for some action video to be shot of me landing the prize winning Pike – let’s hope! The Blind Fishing Boat has also agreed to supply each competitive team at BAIT with a water-proof tactile map of the section of river they’ll be fishing.
Finally, I owe a big thanks to Dave Arbour, who organizes the Carp Show, for sponsoring the exhibit this year. The booth was perfect and extremely well positioned half way down the centre isle. We hope to be back next year.