armstrong (left) at the helm of his
reconfigured boat. For more photos
of the refits he’s made, see this story
online at wwwBoatUS.com/Magazine
Armstrong began his own love affair with
boating at 17 when he bought a 1971
20-foot Chris-Craft for $600. “It had a 265-
hp engine and went 56 miles per hour,” he
says. “I owned other ski boats and it was
always about going faster. At 17, I also built
my first hot rod and that started Automotive
Creations, which was my business for more
than 30 years.” In 2003 he went to work for
Brown-Strauss Steel in Fresno, handling sales
in Northern California and Nevada.
But just three years later came his motorcycle accident. “I spent 51 days in intensive
care with a compound fracture of the upper
arm, both lungs punctured, and eight ribs
broken. I also lost my T- 11 and T- 12 verte-
brae, turning me into a paraplegic.”
But through sheer will and determination,
Armstrong returned to work for his employer,
Brown-Strauss, whom he calls “my hero,
because they stuck with me and allowed me
to earn more money [rather] than taking dis-
ability.” Getting back to work turned out to
be a big factor in his mental rehabilitation.
“Going out to see customers again — even in
a wheelchair — was wonderful,” he says. “The
water, too, has had a healing effect on me. I
knew I wanted to get back out there.”
On his Bluewater, he was able to install
a wheelchair ramp to get onto the boat.
“Then I installed another push button
to raise the ramp up 14 inches from the
floor to allow continued entrance into the
salon.” He also added a permanent slanted
ramp into the galley, cut a big hatch cover
hole in the ceiling of the master stateroom,
and made a lift with an electric motor
winch for $2,000.
“This allows me to hook my wheelchair
in four places so I can be raised to the
upper deck. My wife, Kayo, swings the
davit into place up there, and pushes the
button to raise me.” From there he’s able
to use another fixed ramp to reach the
flybridge helm seat. “I don’t think there’s
anything better than sitting on the bridge
and running my boat. It’s very fulfilling.
I pride myself on being a good skipper.
That’s small to other people, but it’s
big to me.” — Gene Beley
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