Voyager Floating Classroom To Relaunch On Pittsburgh-Area Rivers

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
27 January 2016
By Don Hopey

After negotiating for 18 months, Rivers of Steel Heritage Corp. and RiverQuest have found a way to keep a unique, 90-foot boat operating on Pittsburgh-area rivers.

Rivers of Steel has acquired RiverQuest’s assets, which consist primarily of the Voyager, a custom-built, hybrid-diesel-powered boat that has hosted educational programs for thousands of grade school, high school and college students since 2009.

The environmentally friendly floating classroom will relaunch later this year with a retrofitted propulsion system and an expanded role, said August Carlino, president and chief executive of Rivers of Steel, a nonprofit that manages steel industry historical sites.

“We should close on this acquisition — it’s not a merger — by the end of June, and we should begin operating boat tours by sometime this summer and certainly by the fall,” Mr. Carlino said.

RiverQuest, a nonprofit that began in 1991 as Pittsburgh Voyager Inc., will cease to exist. It provided educational excursions on the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers for 20 years, first aboard two converted Navy training boats, then on the custom-built Voyager.

The boat has been tied up at its dock, next to the USS. Requin submarine, behind the Carnegie Science Center on the North Shore of the Ohio River, since RiverQuest suspended operations late last summer.

Jim Roddey, RiverQuest’s president, said the organization’s educational programming that attracted more than 100,000 students was a “real success story” but became unsustainable as school budgets for such field trips were reduced.

“We became much more efficient, but we couldn’t continue. We didn’t want to be a nonprofit that had a lot of debt,” he said.

Before the boat ownership is transferred, RiverQuest will perform an extensive retrofit of the engine that will cost about $200,000, Mr. Carlino said. The hybrid engine can run for an hour off a large bank of on-board batteries that can be recharged at the dock or while cruising with an engine powered by a fuel mixture that is up to 20 percent animal or vegetable biofuel.

Rivers of Steel will continue to provide school-focused programs but also plans to significantly increase its charter and sightseeing tours, Mr. Carlino said.

“We’ll restart the educational programming, but our business plan shows us narrowing the funding deficit over the next three to five years by adding corporate and charter events and regular tours,” he said.

Don Hopey: 412-263-1983 or; on Twitter @donhopey.