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Boater helps people reconnect with river

Willamette tour guide a vanguard for city's recreation plans
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Seth Vore has a passion for wooden boats, and a successful Kickstarter campaign will allow him to launch a new business giving boat tours on the Willamette River.

Some people just have a thing for wooden boats.

Seth Vore is one of them.

Starting Memorial Day, he hopes to find many others like him and offer them spins on the Willamette River.

Vore is launching a new business called Portland Boat Tours. He's among dozens of Portlanders who've turned to Kickstarter, a 'crowdfunding' website that helps budding entrepreneurs and artsy types raise cash for a startup business or creative project.

Vore put out the word on Kickstarter on Dec. 3 that he needed $5,000 to carry out his dream and start the company. By Jan. 21, 71 people had pledged a total of $6,300.

His vision? Offering guided tours of Portland's stretch of the Willamette River in his six-seat Tollycraft, a 17-foot wooden boat built in 1961 that he purchased on Craigslist. Vore plans to store the boat at his Southwest Portland home, then pick up people who reserve tours at Willamette Park or other points along the river.

Vore doesn't expect to make a fortune, perhaps $20,000 a season if all goes well. But his modest venture could provide a new way for Portlanders and tourists to experience the Willamette, in a more intimate fashion than jet boats or Portland Spirit's larger vessels.

It's just the kind of thing Portland needs now that the city has completed its $1.4 billion Big Pipe project and ended most discharges of untreated sewage into the river, says Rick Bastache, program coordinator for the city's Office of Healthy Working Rivers.

'We have a river that's as clean as it has been in 150 years,' Bastache says. 'People justifiably want to claim their clean-water dividend.'

Vore's idea stems from his passion for wooden boats. His boat, made in Kelso, Wash., has a mahogany hull, with a top made of Alaskan yellow cedar.

'It just has a very classic feel to it; they're just gorgeous,' Vore says. 'There's a lot of hand craftsmanship that goes into it.'

Two years ago, while taking friends out on the river, Vore got a notion to turn it into a business.

On a trial run on Mothers' Day 2010, he made some sandwich signs, plopped them on the waterfront, and offered $20 'Mothers' Day Special' rides. Two parties took him up on the offer, and he ferried them up and down the river under Portland's bridges.

Building some buzz

Vore, a chemical engineer at TriQuint Semiconductor in Hillsboro, says he and his wife don't believe in amassing debt. Raising money via Kickstarter took care of that problem. It also made him think more seriously about how to frame his business, and provided promotional benefits.

'We really wanted to build some buzz and get some energy behind it,' he says.

As it turns out, most of the people pledging were folks he and his wife already knew.

'I had a pretty aggressive email campaign with our friends and family,' Vore says. He and his wife even mentioned it on their annual Christmas card.

Having the project up on Kickstarter made that solicitation process easier. 'I think it has a different feel than when you say, 'Grandma, can I have 100 bucks?' ' he says.

Vore still has plenty to do before he opens for business. Starting Feb. 27, he'll commence training for his Coast Guard captain's license, thanks to money raised on Kickstarter. He's working on getting liability insurance - probably his biggest expense - then creating a website to market the business.

He also wants to make better sandwich signs.

Among the many perks offered to the Kickstarter donors - tiered depending on how much money each gave - is an invitation to an inaugural boat tour. If all goes according to plan, that will come Memorial Day, and then Vore will start offering weekend and weeknight trips through Labor Day.

For more information, check the Kickstarter website: www.kickstarter.com/projects/919413974/portland-boat-tours-from-dream-to-business.