SWEET HOME — When lifelong motorcycle racer Gerritt Schaffer broke his back and became paralyzed from the waist down while riding in Central Oregon in April, he thought his days of drift boat fishing down the South Santiam River were over.
But thanks to Todd Logan, a fellow Sweet Home High School alumnus, and his business partner Greg Goodell, Schaffer and others with disabilities no longer have to just dream about going drift fishing.
It’s not unusual to see a handicapped accessible sticker on elevators or community buildings, but anglers on the banks of the South Santiam River often do a double-take when a shiny new Willie drift boat slides quietly past them with someone in a wheelchair on its bow, or at times, even handling the oars.
It is possible because the unique boat is equipped with a transom that folds downward and becomes a wheelchair ramp. Rear seats remove quickly and easily pull out, allowing the wheelchair to glide onto the bow of the boat.
“My father and I sold our boat shortly after returning from the hospital,” Schaffer said. “I had medical expenses and could not see a way of getting into the boat. It was another part of my life that was gone. Adaptive Excursions has given that back to me.”
Schaffer said he forgets he is paralyzed while drifting the river.
“I’m just one of the guys going fishing and that is just incredible,” Schaffer said. “It has given me a lot of peace during this difficult time.”
It’s all part of the plan for Logan and Goodell, who have formed Adaptive Excursions, a river guiding services for people with disabilities.
Their business card gives a hint as to why their mission is so close to their hearts: “We’re in the Same Boat.”
Logan was born with congenital bone fusion. His fingers and toes don’t have joints, so his bones break instead of flex. In 2014, while elk hunting, Logan broke his right foot for the ninth time and doctors said it could not be repaired again, and that they would have to remove his leg.
The muscular Logan — who at 43 looks like he could still do well on a high school wrestling mat — said the operation took place in November 2014 at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, and by February 2015 he walked out of the hospital on a prosthetic leg.
“I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror for two months,” Logan said. “I know what these other guys are going through.”
Logan empathizes with people in wheelchairs because he estimates that over the years, “I have spent about six years in wheelchairs after surgeries.”
Logan said it became difficult to find work as a heavy equipment operator after losing his leg and decided it was time to pursue another career, becoming a fishing guide. He thought that would be on the ocean, but after seeing a Willie Boats set up with a fold-down transom at a sportsman’s show in Portland, he set a new course.
Willie Boats owner Jim Bittle said the company has been working on development of a boat to accommodate handicapped persons for some time. He said there are currently four boats in the field.
“It all started because a guide in Idaho has a very good client who is in a wheelchair,” Bittle said. “He came to us with the idea and we just refined it.”
Bittle said the key was developing a transom system that allowed easy access, but also sealed properly when in the upright position.
“Our next issue is developing a set-up for people who want to put a kicker motor on the boat,” Bittle said.
Bittle called the partnership with Logan and Goodell “a good marriage. We’re providing the boat and they are providing the insurance. It’s not about Willie Boats, it’s about what the boats can do for people who are out there who can’t get to the resource.”
Boats are available with a variety of options and cost from $9,000 to $13,000.
Logan said when he first saw the Willie Boat, “An amazing amount of emotion came over me. When you are in a wheelchair you can’t just hop up and get a cup of coffee anymore. Nothing is easy.”
Logan said that in addition to the fold-down transom, other key features of the boat are a tracking system that allows wheelchairs to be anchored securely in two areas of the boat, and a higher-than-usual deck in the bow area to get the angler up high enough to battle big fish.
And the bow is extra strong, so it can hold a person and a motorized wheelchair weighing up to 650 pounds.
“You should see the look on people’s faces when they see somebody in a wheelchair rowing,” Schaffer said.
Logan added that the boat also makes it easier for people who aren’t in a wheelchair to get into and out of the boat.
“Take older guys with bad knees or hips,” Logan said. “This would work very well for them, too.”
Logan lives in Shady Cove, and so far excursions have been on the Rogue and South Santiam rivers. Cost is $120 for a half-day trip or $200 for an all-day outing.
Logan’s goal is to develop a tour of Oregon, Washington and Idaho, especially focusing on trips for veterans.
“My prosthetic leg is amazing and that’s because of the sacrifices of our veterans,” Logan said.
Logan and Goodell are seeking sponsors for the tour through a GoFundMe page: Adopt a wounded/disabled veteran campaign.
The goal is to raise $8,500 to provide guided outings for 14 veterans in the three states.
“Our Northwest tour will include stops in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho,” Logan explains. “Each stop will be at or near rivers known for great fishing opportunities and drift boat accessible. We will be reaching out to the local businesses and agencies to assist us in finding a deserving veteran for one of these many free guided excursions.”
As of mid-week, about $1,500 had been raised toward the goal.
To contact Adaptive Excursions, call 208-989-2783 or visit them on Facebook.