Lawrence Euteneier was one of the blind fishermen at Saturday’s fishing tournament for the blind at Nangor Resort at Westmeath. However, he was the only one who fished alone, piloting his own boat which he built himself, mainly with off-the-shelf components and with support from his sponsors. Here he poses with his guide dog, Maestro, who had to stay on shore while his master fished.
(Observer photo by Marie Zettler)
By MARIE ZETTLER
The idea of a fishing tournament for blind anglers was revolutionary 19 years ago when Lions Clubs in Eastern Ontario organized the first BAIT (Blind Anglers International Tournament) at Nangor Resort in Westmeath.
The BAIT offered blind people of all ages experiences taken for granted by sighted people: of wind-whipped rides in state-of-the-art fishing boats and catching fish with the aid of volunteer “shepherds” who guided them onto the dock and into boats and helped them with unfamiliar tasks such as baiting hooks and landing fish.
The annual event was held on Friday and Saturday, still at Nangor, and still following much the same format it has over the years. However, there was one blind fisherman who participated totally under his own steam. Not only did he pilot his own boat and catch his fish entirely on his own; he did it in a boat he had built himself.
Lawrence Euteneier, 43, of Ottawa, who is totally blind, built the easily portable hard plastic boat, which, when knocked down, weighs about 75 pounds. “I used mainly components that are readily available,” he said.
“I have a talking GPS and compass and I have sonar that can scan 25 to 30 feet ahead and another sonar device from an auto reverse sensor that helps me when I’m docking or hooking up with other boats.”
He first came to the BAIT tournament 10 years ago.
“I thought it was great to have all those volunteers with their boats giving us the opportunity to fish,” he said. “I have been registered as blind since I was eight years old, but I had some sight until I was 16 and used to enjoy fishing.”
Advancements in technology convinced him to take on the project of building the boat. “I built it with a great deal of support from the sporting industry,” he said.
“I’m concerned with two things: to get where I’m going and back and to do it without hurting anyone along the way. But there are still improvements to be made. After all, the first plane that was built didn’t quite fly. The second and third ones were much better. “It’s a prototype. It ( the boat’s material) is all out there. Anyone can buy it and just put it together.”
The boat is propelled by an electric motor with a 40-pound thrust.
“It’s very quiet and it’s environmentally sound,” he said. “There are zero emissions. It’s like a Zodiac. It’s untippable. I can stand and walk around in it without any concern.”
The cause of his blindness has never been determined. However, he uses the knowledge and insights he has gained from his challenges in his career: heading a research team on integrating people with physical challenges into the workforce and helping government set policies. He is married and has five children. In his daily activities, he is assisted by Maestro, a guide dog trained by the Mira Foundation in Mira, Quebec. Getting a Mira-trained dog qualifies its owner to compete in a stock car race for the blind, which is one of the foundation’s main fundraisers. He also does dragon boat racing and does all the carpentry and handyman work around his house. He was shadowed in Saturday’s tournament by a sighted boater, who kept an eye on him to make sure nothing went awry, and also carried a “live well” to hold the fish he caught and keep them alive.
“But it will get better,” he said. “The technology is advancing so much that I envision a day when this tournament will be held entirely with anglers running their own boats. For sure, blind people can do more than listen to books and tune pianos.”
You can learn more about Mr. Euteneier and his boat, the Lilly Anne, named after his wife and his youngest daughter, on the Internet at www.blindfishingboat.com.