Industry meets Elegance

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This 92-foot steel-hulled tug’s workboat lines belie its proper yacht interior

This 92-foot steel-hulled tug’s workboat lines belie its proper yacht interior

Gerald and Joanna Voynik’s impending voyage depended on precise timing. They were ready to move their floating home, a converted tugboat named Constant, from Norfolk, Va., to Jacksonville, Fla. But it already was December, and this year’s Super Bowl XXXIX was to be played in Jacksonville in just eight weeks. All the slips would be taken if the Voyniks hesitated, so they were poised for the next weather window, which was taking its sweet time to open.

The Intracoastal Waterway entrance is a mere eight miles west on Chesapeake Bay from their dock off Pretty Lake Avenue. That 1,200-mile aquatic freeway, which passes through Jacksonville with mostly protected waters, still was etched with the wakes of countless snowbirds heading south for the winter. But for the Voyniks, there might as well have been a gate across the “ditch.”

Constant, a steel-hulled 92-footer, draws 12 feet, equal to the ICW’s authorized minimum depth but a good 7 feet more than the actual depth in some areas. The only choice for the Voyniks was an offshore passage of nearly 500 nautical miles at no more than 10 knots. Jerry Voynik expected to spend 60 hours at sea. It wasn’t a journey he and Joanna hoped to make without a break in the weather.

So the Voyniks waited. And what a place their tug is to dally. Constant, built in 1930, through its owners’ own labors has become as swank as a Manhattan industrial loft. Outside she remains the same long and lovely vessel built 75 years ago at the Kensington Shipyard & Drydock Co. on Philadelphia’s Delaware River waterfront. All of her working gear is in place, ready to tow a barge or nudge a freighter. Long, black fenders — thick slices chopped from truck tires and trunked together shish kebab-style — hang from her beige hull. A frizzy, white puddin — the tug’s mustache of frayed rope woven through netting — decorates her 11-foot-high bow, falling over more black rubber fenders. Her dock lines are mere 3-inch braided Dacron threads compared to the 5- or 6-inch twisted hawsers that normally would moor a tug. But the lines pass around her original “bitts” — huge steel knobs welded and bolted to the deck and standing waist-high. Abaft the long deckhouse an H-bit, to which hefty tow lines once were lashed, stands amidships, and beside it is a working capstan as big around as a trash barrel.

The paint on her steel sparkles. There is no rust. Yet pretty as this workboat is — her sheer swoops from the bow to a 36-inch freeboard amidships and a smokestack thrusts 20 feet above the deckhouse — the view from the dock gives no hint of the chic inside.

Dark varnished oak wainscoting in the master stateroom, forward in the deckhouse, glows as if washed in hot molasses. Moving aft, the same wood accents the 22-foot-long saloon and the galley at the end of the deckhouse. Beige carpeting, professionally installed, quiets footsteps enough to hear the crackle of burning logs should a fire be lit in the wood stove. On a warm spring evening, the sweet perfume of a sea breeze sweeps freely through the deckhouse when the eight watertight doors are opened.

There is polished brass, thick glass and authentic nautical knickknacks. But there also are rivets and tubing, doorways with foot-high sills, and exposed pipes and conduits — the real elements of this former industrial workplace. As if to leave no doubt, there is a tube perhaps 18 inches in diameter that slants up from the center of the 14-foot-wide saloon floor and disappears 8 feet above in the ceiling. There are angle-iron braces holding the tube at its rakish tilt, as they did when the saloon was the upper engine room and its sole but a steel grid. And as then, when the 12-cylinder 1,200-hp diesel below the carpet rumbles to life, exhaust fumes rise inside this tube to the smokestack that towers over the deckhouse.

A beauty to behold

The balance between industry and elegance was the vision of both Jerry, 61, and Joanna, 60. They had looked at only one other boat when, in 2001, they entered a yard owned by a tug company in Chester, Pa. One part of the yard was a purgatory of sorts for

decommissioned and derelict tugs. Four vessels were near shore, lying on the mud bottom. Farther offshore was the James McAllister, a tugboat that floated at high tide but joined its sisters on the bottom when the tide fell. Her beauty was well hidden.

“Things were ripped out of her, rust all over the place, old tires laying on deck, old line, tables, mattresses,” Jerry Voynik recalls, waiting in the comfort of the saloon for the weather to break. “She was in a pretty sorry state.”

All the cabin doors were left open by scavengers looking for parts. The linoleum in the galley was peeled, as was the boat’s paint, which in the Voyniks’ opinion was not an entirely bad thing. “The hull was what I fondly refer to as go-vomit green — char-treuse with a lemon-yellow bulwark,” Jerry says. “The wheelhouse and deckhouse were dark navy blue, the decks were red, and the stack was lemon-

yellow and lavender.”

Joanna was smitten. “I fell in love with it when I saw it,” she says, sitting in a comfy chair under a hanging plant at the forward end of the saloon, cradling a long-stemmed glass of red wine. “It has classic lines. The sheer of it, the [square] windows. It’s just classic.”

The owner wanted $70,000 for the James McAllister; Jerry thought they could get it for less. They left the yard without making an offer and, over the next few months, looked at another 21 workboats, from Staten Island, N.Y., to Florida. But when they returned for another look at the James McAllister, the boat’s owner held firm on his price.

This wasn’t the first time the Voyniks considered living aboard. At that point in 2001, their 17 years together had involved 12 years spent on four other boats.

Jerry’s nautical experience was almost lifelong. His parents had given him a

7-foot rowboat when he was 6 years old. He converted it to a sailboat and learned seamanship in the waters near South Amboy, N.J. He graduated from high school and spent two years in the Navy, then worked a few years for a telephone company. In his off hours he had a business buying, restoring and selling wooden boats. In 1966 he bought a tugboat to tow the wrecks to his shop in South Amboy.

“I liked the tugs so much I went to work for Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co. on Staten Island,” Jerry says. He worked as skipper, chief engineer and shipyard electrician, among other duties. He was rounding out his naval resume, but at the same time his own marriage was failing — a fact that saved his life. His employer asked him to make a trip on a tug to New Orleans, but the pending divorce prevented him from going. The tug was lost off Florida with all hands.

Voynik got jobs on shore, preparing quotes for bids for electrical turbine repairs, an experience that serves him today in his work for a defense contractor that handles logistics for a segment of the Navy. In time his work took him to Washington, D.C., where he met Joanna.

It was 1983, and Jerry lived aboard a 47-foot Trumpy motoryacht. Joanna was in what Jerry refers to as a “shaky” marriage. She and her husband owned a houseboat across the dock from Jerry. They would ask Jerry to fix things on their boat, and Joanna took an interest in Jerry’s work.

She was as unlikely a person to live aboard as Jerry could have found. The houseboat was her first vessel, although a life at sea was in her family. Her maternal grandfather worked on tugs out of Massachusetts. Frequently, when Joanna’s mother was a child, her grandfather would bring his wife and child aboard for offshore towing trips. One such trip was scheduled in 1910, but Joanna’s grandmother was sick and unable to go. That meant that the daughter, Joanna’s mother, had to stay home, too. The tug sank off New Jersey, taking the grandfather to his death.

Perhaps that explains Joanna’s problem. “I’m scared to death of water,” she says. “I don’t swim. I get violently seasick. I hate water, but I love it.”

Trawlers, tugs, shrimp boats

Not long after Jerry and Joanna met, Jerry left Washington, taking a job on the West Coast. They kept in touch, and Jerry wound up moving back to Washington in 1985. In 1988 they married, moving aboard a 49-foot Grand Banks Alaskan. They next bought a new 48-foot Defever trawler, living aboard in Seattle and San Diego through late 1989. The production trawlers were “designed to sleep more people than I want to know, in less comfort [than I want],” says Jerry. They trucked the Defever to Brownsville, Texas, motored to Jacksonville, and sold the trawler in 1992. It wasn’t long before Joanna, her fears well in check, told Jerry, “I really miss living on the water.”

Jerry said OK, “But I’m not living on another yacht. It’s going to be a workboat.”

They looked at tugboats and shrimp boats. “We even looked at a boat up in Nova Scotia, a 115-foot Canadian trawler called Cape Race,” Jerry recalls. It was an eastern-rigged commercial fishing boat with the deckhouse at the stern and a big, flared bow. Whatever they chose, they would be sharing it with their 2-year-old calico cat, P.D. (so-named for its habit of sitting up like a prairie dog).

They found a 1949 81-foot tug in Camden, N.J., but sold it a month later to a man from Maryland’s Eastern Shore without ever moving the boat. The next year, however, Joanna and Jerry settled on a 1902 86-foot tug named Quaker that had worked on the Delaware River for two different towing companies. They changed her name to Companion, converted her and moved aboard. They were still living in Florida, so winter cold wasn’t a big consideration when Jerry decided to use a minimum of insulation on Companion. His mistake became apparent when they steamed north to the Severn River near Annapolis, Md. Another problem resulted from his rewiring of the boat. He had converted half of the electrical panel to shore power and half to battery power. Switching from shore power to the batteries, he blew up the refrigerator, television, telephone and microwave oven.

The Voyniks had lived aboard Companion for five years when they reached the Severn in 1998. They bought a house, intending to live in it, but then sold both the house and Companion, and moved into an apartment.

Once again, they began looking for a tug and a new home. They found a Victorian house in Pasadena, Md., on Rock Creek near the mouth of the Patapsco River, about 10 miles southeast of Baltimore. There was a long finger pier that lead out into the creek, and soon their new boat, a 50-foot tug named Consort — to keep with the “C” names — was moored there. Consort was too small to live aboard, but it was a good dayboat. They enjoyed her for a time until Joanna one day voiced a familiar lament. “It was too ordinary living ashore,” she says.

They sold Consort in 2000 and began the search that ended with the November ’01 purchase of the James McAllister. Constant would be her new name, chosen for its sense of virtue.

“I spent two weeks in the shipyard trying to get [Constant] untrashed,” says Jerry. “The colors were so hideous, I laid a coat of paint on her. Then we brought her down to Pasadena.”

The Voyniks hired a captain from the seller’s tug company to bring their new home to Rock Creek, a picturesque but none-too-large body of water. They waited on the far shore of the Patapsco for the tide to rise in the creek, and when the captain saw where they were headed, he stepped back from Constant’s big wheel.

“I’m done,” Jerry remembers him saying. “It’s all yours.”

Making a home

Voynik steered his new boat carefully around the big rocks, stained white by roosting birds, at the entrance to Rock Creek and nudged her up to his slender finger dock. For about the next 10 months Constant was an ever-present landmark on the shallow creek’s northwestern shore. When the tide fell, it listed to port. In the evenings and on weekends, during low tide and high, Joanna — an executive assistant — and Jerry began the conversion.

Stripping the paint took “chemicals, paint burner and a lot of four-letter words,” he says. By the end of September 2002 the Voyniks had completed enough work to move aboard, this time with both P.D. and Maxwell, their fluffy Maine coon cat. They sold their house and steamed up the Patapsco to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

By now there were 2-by-4 studs bolted to the insides of the deckhouse walls. There was an adequate layer of insulation for a northern winter, covered with paneling. And most of the painting had been done, inside and out. They had replaced the chartreuse and yellow with beige, brown and a dash of white.

With temperatures falling, work began in the engine room. Kerosene heaters battled with the ice forming in the water on the far side of Constant’s steel hull. Jerry repaired the generators and pumps, installed a diesel-burning furnace and baseboard heat, and removed the interior walls of the forward crew quarters on the main deck, which had been divided into four cabins. This created the master stateroom, measuring 14.5 feet by 12 feet, with 7 feet of headroom. He removed tanks from the fo’c’sle, below and forward of the master stateroom, and the area became a sitting room that can be accessed by a ladder through an opening in the master stateroom sole. It has a skylight above that makes it a welcoming nook with a love seat, two wardrobes and the soft lighting of lamps.

Jerry salvaged the oak wainscoting that, along with some cabinet doors, he removed from the interior of the crew quarters. These he would find use for in the saloon and galley.

In the deckhouse, Joanna — who was responsible for décor — got down on her hands and knees with a tape measure and chalk, marking the new plywood flooring and trying to arrange the furniture that would make the move into their new home. She was stymied. There was no place for a sofa because there were watertight doors on both sides of the old upper engine room. The one long wall that didn’t have a watertight door had the door to the head, with its separate marine head and shower stalls. Then Jerry broke the news: She could block one of the doors.

“What a revelation,” Joanna remembers thinking. The sofa went in front of the port-side door, near the wood stove at the aft end of the saloon.

Jerry installed a washer and a dryer in the engine room and made sure his electrical circuits were entirely separate. Joanna laid new tile in the galley, where they installed a full-size refrigerator and a four-burner electric range. They hired a contractor to install carpet and paid for some other work they had neither the time nor skills for. The total investment, with contractors doing about 20 percent of the work by Jerry’s estimate, was around $150,000.

The Voyniks remained in Baltimore for a year before steaming south to Norfolk. Joanna helmed most of the way — there is no autopilot —as she always does because Jerry prefers to be working with the engine. As they passed other tugs, the radio crackled with compliments. The only external hint that this was someone’s yacht was the lapstrake Whitehall dinghy secured upside down on top of the deckhouse.

“As with past tugs we’ve owned,” Jerry says, “the integrity and tradition of the tug is maintained looking outwardly — as it always was a tug — but the interior is a comfortable, cozy home.”

The next year passed in Norfolk, but the move back to Jacksonville was already planned. December’s foul weather broke after a week of waiting, and on a calm morning Jerry backed Constant from the dock. A short time later Joanna was steering through 2- to 3-foot seas, beginning the passage to their new dock in Florida, with Constant consuming 23 gallons of diesel each hour. Whether the trip was comfortable — Joanna’s seasickness could return in any seas — would be a question. But she was unafraid.

“I don’t have any fear because he [Jerry] knows everything about boats,” she says.

Would the time come when they would consider selling Constant? “Are you kidding?” Joanna asks. “This is my boat!”