A 10-year dream of building a specially equipped boat to take wheelchair users fishing is close to reality with a fundraising dinner coming up in Matamata to help pay for the first trips.
The fully wheelchair accessible, custom-designed 18m by 6.5m alloy catamaran is nearing completion in Mt Maunganui and is expected to be launched within two months.
The Matamata Lions charity dinner and auction will take place at Matamata-Piako Civic and Memorial Centre on Wednesday, March 10, and a cruise for two on the boat is one of the spot prizes on offer.
The catamaran is the creation of Project Noah, part of Bay of Plenty-based charitable trust Wish4Fish, founded by keen fisherman Bryce Dinneen who has been a tetraplegic since a diving accident in 2007.
He says that during his rehab, he thought he might never be able to fish again. "So I thought, what if I could design and build a boat that would allow individuals with a disability or illness to get out on the water and go fishing," he says.
Since 2011, Dinneen's charitable trust has been running fishing trips for people with disabilities using commercial charter boats.
Wish4Fish general manager Tony Pearce says: "But that is really expensive. Having our own boat will be a game changer, we would have more freedom and it will be cheaper."
It is expected the catamaran will take more than 1000 people with various disabilities fishing every year with 20 to 30 abled and disabled people per trip.
Building the boat for Project Noah was possible after " hundreds of fundraising events since the start of the charitable trust," says Pearce.
The catamaran has four remote controlled fishing systems and 20 specially designed rod holders.
"These will enable visitors with limited mobility the pleasure of hooking and reeling in fish on their own, or with limited help," says Pearce.
The hulls have already been vinyl-wrapped to make maintenance easier, but more importantly to prevent fouling, and the flybridge has a wheelchair accessible lift to allow guests to see the skipper's controls.
"This will give our visitors the opportunity to have a perspective they wouldn't normally have."
Electrics, wiring, furnishing and a quiet area for people with mental disabilities will be completed soon. Work on the wheelchair accessible bathroom is in the final stages.
The Wish4Fish Team is installing a 65" TV screen, which will work with external cameras looking out from the bow.
"These cameras have a 30x zoom function which will be able to provide people with up-close views of any dolphins or surface sea life we may come across," says Pearce.
• Tickets for the Matamata Lions fundraising dinner on March 10 are $65 per person or $500 for a table of 8. For bookings email Kym at email@example.com.