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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Dec. 7, 2023

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Vancouver’s Goodwater Boat Works still afloat

Three women work to keep boat repair shop going after the founder’s death in October

By , Columbian staff writer
6 Photos
Standing outside of the Goodwater Boat Works shop on a recent workday are Erika Waters of Portland, from left, Ashley LeGall of Hillsboro, Ore., and Shawn Riley of Oregon City, Ore.
Standing outside of the Goodwater Boat Works shop on a recent workday are Erika Waters of Portland, from left, Ashley LeGall of Hillsboro, Ore., and Shawn Riley of Oregon City, Ore. Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian Photo Gallery

After heaving a balled-up, blue raft into the garage that houses Goodwater Boat Works, Shawn Riley, Ashley LeGall and Erika Waters had to perform a little boat surgery.

The raft had recently been gouged and brought to the trio, the boat repair shop’s new owners. Their mission: diagnose the problem, then fix it.

“We’ll still have to deflate it, take all the cells out and check the inner bladder and then we’ll have to cut (the problem) out like a piece of cancer,” said LeGall. “And then get her back on the water.”

The work is typical for a Wednesday evening these days. Each of the women balance full-time jobs elsewhere and carve out hours every week for the Vancouver raft repair business. It is their way to memorialize Ashley’s father, Victor “Vic” LeGall, whose dying wish in October was for them to keep his business afloat.

Vic LeGall, a Portland native, had been a lifelong lover of the water. He owned a sailboat at age 12 and as a teenager found a passion for whitewater rafting. After 35 years working jobs in logistics, truck driving, warehousing and other occupations, he found work in the boat repair business. He eventually started his own company in his garage, where the first earned dollar is still framed.

Goodwater’s name and logo come from symbols used by transients, tipping them off to warm meals, safe places to camp or good water. Vic LeGall was not a transient, but respected the untethered life, the trio said.

“It is kind of a moniker of the river rat lifestyle,” said Ashley LeGall. “Who doesn’t want to live out of their van and just travel across the country, or South America when it’s cold, and just smash rivers all the time? That’s the dream.”

Two years ago, Vic LeGall was diagnosed with liver cancer. A round of chemotherapy helped; but the cancer returned viciously. After he was taken off the liver transplant list this summer, he took the three women out and told them he hoped they would take over when it was time. He died shortly thereafter.

It has been two months since the trio have become owners. Each work full-time and carve out 15 to 20 hours weekly for Goodwater. Ashley LeGall, who lives in Hillsboro, Ore., and works at Nike, said staying busy has helped.

“That’s part of why I threw myself into the shop, to stay busy as soon as I could,” she said. “Idle hands drive me nuts.”

Boat repair remains the name of the game. The women are trained already, but not yet at Vic LeGall’s level, they said, who could diagnose a hamstrung boat at nearly a glance.

“He could look at a boat and say, ‘Oh, that’s such-and-such combination of PVC or Hypalon (material),’ ” Ashley LeGall, 30, said. “I still need to sit and do research.”

Besides learning the tricks of the trade, honoring Vic LeGall is their first goal. That means not only keeping the business alive and well, but also being compassionate members of the regional rafting community.

“That was a big part of Victor,” said Riley, 30. “His goal was community all the time. To continue providing all the support and help for the community I think is a huge goal for us as well.”

Still, the business could do well in the hands of the next generation. Waters, Riley and Ashley LeGall aren’t sure about Goodwater’s commercial prospects, but they will market themselves more strongly at rafting events and broadcast themselves on social media.

At the end of the day, the trio said the business keeps them together. When they aren’t planning rafting trips, they said they can count on each other to show up at the garage during the week, start repairing a raft and then have a beer.

“The three of us have become probably closer to family than just friends anymore,” said Riley. “I couldn’t imagine two chicks I’d rather work with. It’s made all the difference.”

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Columbian staff writer