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Local boat builder hits new heights with tugboat

Powered by DIY philosophy, Jamie Zaroski's latest creation is a 30-foot steel tugboat built by hand.

THUNDER BAY – Nothing beats the feeling of hitting the water in a boat you’ve built yourself, says Jamie Zaroski. He should know.

The self-taught Thunder Bay boat builder has poured thousands of hours into his passion, starting with a half-dozen cedar strip canoes. His wooden boats are now scattered across the continent, from British Columbia to Florida to Yosemite National Park.

But for Zaroski, a paper maker at the local mill, a bigger challenge always seems to beckon. In 2015, he launched his first steamboat, recreating technology from the first days of powered boating.

His latest creation will be hard to top: a 30-foot, 9,000-pound steel tugboat built by hand in his driveway.

Zaroski’s commitment to his projects can seem daunting – he invested 13 months in the tugboat, working from dawn to dusk on most days off with a break over the winter. But the feeling of satisfaction at the end makes it worthwile..

“I feel like a million bucks when I’m driving this thing,” he says. “I’ve got a saying, ‘this tug is my drug.’ That’s how good I feel when I’m driving it.”

Zaroski takes his boat, christened the Iron Queen, out regularly for fishing expeditions and pleasure cruises on the Kaministiquia River, and into Lake Superior. With its classic red and black tug design, it’s a particular hit with the kids.

A short video shows Zaroski motoring down the Kam in his creation.

Equipped with a 1966 Chrysler marine 318 motor that lets it cruise at a top speed of nine miles per hour, it’s also fully functional as a tug – though it has yet to be pressed into service.

“All summer, I’ve just been praying someone breaks down so I can tow them back to the boat launch,” he jokes.

Zaroski’s passion for building started early.

“I’d go to the Mary J.L. Black library every Saturday morning with my brother, and I’d get books on how to build stuff,” he says. “That’s how I started – little bird houses.”

He’s since gone on to build his own house, among a litany of other projects, never losing sight of that do-it-yourself philosophy.

“I think anybody can build something if they put their mind to it,” he says. “You can do it – there’s so much help out there nowadays on the internet.”

While he’s picked up tips on new skills like welding from neighbours and friends, Zaroski relies largely on a wealth of online information like YouTube videos and online boat building forums.

The internet is equally a boon for finding some of the more unique parts needed, while others are found from scrap locally – like the motor, which he picked up for $400 from a scrap yard. After sitting unused for decades, it started just fine. He estimates he spent around $18,000 in total for parts for the tug.

Never one to rest too long on his laurels, Zaroski is already thinking about his next project, eyeing up plans for a 20-foot steel steamboat. He’s not fazed by the prospect of having his life taken over by another new project.

“It’s just a love for building,” he explains. “Everybody would come by and go, ‘wow, that’s a big project!’ But I’d say, no, it’s like a thousand little jobs. That’s the way I approached it.”

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