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Retired plumber hopes to give disabled access to water -

September 7, 2015
Eric Wilkinson, KING 5 News 7:25 p.m. PDT September 1, 2015

A retired Whidbey Island plumber is now dedicating his life to helping the disabled explore a whole new world.(Photo: KING)

WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. -- Look around his Whidbey Island shop and it's clear, Mike Mayes is an old fisherman at heart. So when he goes to work, memories of father-son fishing trips when he was a boy are as near as his trusty rod.

"I grew up fishing with my dad and my grandpa," he said. "They were great times. I miss them."

Mike's father had diabetes and ended up with an amputated leg, eventually making it too dangerous to go out on his aluminum boat. He still wanted to go, but the father-son fishing trips were done.

"It wasn't a good thing to have to tell your dad you can't go with him anymore," said Mike.

That memory stuck with Mike his whole life. Now he is building a better boat to keep hope afloat for those who want to get out on the water.

Mike has constructed a small fleet of Coast Guard-approved boats for people in wheelchairs. They're the first of their kind. Mike has already taken dozens of people, many of them disabled veterans, for free rides.

Recently, Mike took Jake Johnson for a ride. Jake suffers from a birth defect that has kept him wheel chair bound his entire life.

"This gives me something to look forward to in my life," he said. "I'm not stuck on shore. It makes me feel on top of the world. It's awesome."

"I've seen the looks on peoples' faces and how they feel after they've been on this boat. It makes you very happy inside," added Mike. "Half the time it makes me cry."

A retired plumber, Mike has sunk his savings into ADA Boats ( because he believes in spreading that happiness -- the joy he had to give up with his dad. Mike wants to bring his boats to market for people to rent or buy. The project has been a bit like bonding with his father, all over again.

"I think my dad would wonder what took me so long," Mike joked. "He'd want me to go get him and take him out right now!"

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