Jerry Troyanek has had a variety of marine-related
occupations for the past 20 years that have taken him on an incredible number
of waterways. He has traveled extensively on a great number of vessels, has
logged more thousands of miles than he has kept track of and has been living
exactly the type of life he wanted on the water.
Through all the years of travel and different jobs, the one
constant in his life has been that his home base has remained the same—a 1974,
36-foot Gibson that he first moved aboard in 1990. Now in the process of
getting its third set of engines, Dawn
Treader, named after a ship that travels to magical, mystical places where
animals talk in the Chronicles of Narnia
by C.S. Lewis, the boat has been remodeled, refined, and reworked to suit Troyanek’s
unique requirements and lifestyle.
From The Start
His nautical story begins in 1990 when he was asked if he
wanted to help build and then manage a marina in Trempealeau, Wis..
Troyanek had grown up playing in the Mississippi River in LaCrosse, Wis., had
done some small business consulting and had just earned his MBA so he signed on
to help with the project.
The easiest way for him to stay close to the construction was
to buy a boat and live on it. His first requirement for that boat stemmed from
a promise he had made himself while serving in Vietnam. He vowed he would never go
another day without a shower so having adequate shower space and plenty of hot
water ruled out a lot of boats. But the Gibson fit the bill perfectly so he
bought it and moved aboard.
During the four years he worked in Trempealeau he made good
on another promise to himself—to never go to a laundromat again. To accomplish
that, he installed a washer and dryer and a 20-gallon hot water heater.
After a flood destroyed the marina, he became the traveling
representative for Quimby’s Cruising
Guide. This publication has long been referred to as “the bible” for boaters
traveling the inland waterways. His original job description included cruising
more than 6,810 miles. For almost the next five years, he cruised more than 25 waterways
for that publication, visiting all the marinas. By the time he was done, he had
logged far more miles than the original expectation.
He would travel all summer gathering information then head
to St. Louis in the late fall, spend a couple months there organizing and
writing, then head for the southern rivers in the winter.
From 1994 until 1998, he wrote a series of articles for Houseboat magazine about the rivers he
cruised under the heading, Voyages of the Dawn
Treader. He also wrote several This Old Boat articles for this magazine.
Calling For A Captain
Troyanek eventually settled for a time in Fairhope, Ala.,
and became a ship’s agent. But when he was asked to help deliver a boat, he
discovered a new world and that led to a new occupation as a delivery,
corporate, dinner and excursion boat captain. He was sometimes Master of the
Ship and sometimes signed on as a pilot. Those opportunities took him up and
down the East Coast, throughout Florida, into Canada and on the Great
Lakes. Through it all he continued to call Dawn Treader home when he wasn’t working.
When much of his work became centered on jobs on the Upper Mississippi, he decided to move his home back to
that area. But as he headed up the Tenn-Tombigbee Waterway, he blew an engine
so he pulled into Murphree’s Waterfront Marina and Campground at Mile 403. That
was in 2005 and he’s been there ever since.
During the summers he commuted by car to various pilot and
captain jobs, mainly up north, but he even worked a stint piloting amphibious ducks
in Memphis, Tenn.
One of the jobs he is most proud of was serving as the last
pilot on the Julia Belle Swain before
it ceased operation on the Upper Mississippi.
She is an authentic steam-powered passenger vessel with 1915 engines and a
single, 21-foot paddlewheel. Troyanek says she was very difficult to maneuver.
He steered with her seven-foot diameter antique teakwood pilot wheel and had to
constantly communicate with the engineer. “Learning how to drive her was like
learning how to drive all over. I learned real piloting on her and am proud of
that and humbled that they trusted me,” he notes.
Similar to the continual changes in his life, his boat
continually changed. He constantly remodeled, tweaked and customized it to meet
his very unique needs.
“I have been a one-man show since I started so I rigged the
boat for one guy from the beginning,” he notes. He also put a premium on
utility and safety. One of his mottos is: “Safety is no accident.” Throughout
the boat, there are numerous places where he has utilized many of the safety practices
found on the commercial vessels he has worked on.
For instance, he is especially fire safety-conscious after
seeing firsthand what fire can do on a boat. So he has nine hand-held
extinguishers mounted at various places on the boat where he can get to them
easily and quickly. Those are in addition to a fire suppression system in the
Because he always pushed the boat hard when traveling, he
installed the biggest trim tabs he could so he could get up on plane and go. “I
usually run around 2800 rpm between 18 and 22 miles per hour,” he says. That
speed was also a welcome change to his professional life where he frequently
traveled the same routes over and over at five or six miles per hour.
To expand his range, he mounted three fuel tanks on the
upper deck: two 35-gallon tanks and one 70-gallon. They are pesticide tanks he
painted red to denote gasoline and are strapped to the rails and sitting on
rubber blocks for drainage. They are plumbed with copper fuel lines with shutoff
valves and are connected to the 50-gallon saddle tanks below decks so he can
easily switch tanks while underway. He put the system together during the days
his longest runs were from Cairo, Ill. to Memphis, Tenn. and below St. Louis,
Mo. to Kentucky Lake,
both of which were over 200 miles. He had the United States Coast Guard inspect
the system to make sure it met all requirements.
Early on he relied on propane for some house appliances, but
after a very scary incident he says he “became addicted to electricity.” He
installed an air-cooled, 10kW generator on the upper deck and upgraded the
boat’s electrical service to 100 amps. Shore power can be plugged in either
fore or aft and can also be plugged into the generator. The engines have 100
amp commercial grade alternators and a 2,500 watt inverter is also part of the
Part of Troyanek’s electricity obsession is having plenty of
lighting so he has significantly upgraded that aspect of the boat. There are
several spreader lights on the exterior he uses when locking or docking at
night. Because he loves to run at night, and says that is really one reason why
he got hired for many jobs because he gladly would take the night shift, he has
an array of red night lights in the ceiling of his wheel house. A radar, GPS
and chartplotter aid in night navigation.
To help with single handling the boat through innumerable
locks, he added black rubber rub rails to the gunnels that came from a tug bat.
Although they added about 1,500 pounds of weight, he says they have been great
because “I don’t need fenders. I just bounce off stuff.”
During the period he used the boat in Mobile Bay
and experienced high waves, he added spray shields to his deck rails and a
heavy-duty windshield wiper. He also painted the hull below the gunnels with
Awlgrip during that period.
Making A Home
Inside, the upper forward area serves as a salon, his wheel house
and his bedroom. He makes up a bed there every night. Where the original AC
unit hung, there is now a hatch. A ceiling rafter had been cut when the unit
was installed so when the ceiling started to sag, Troyanek tore it all out and
reinforced the roof with aluminum I-beams on 13-inch centers. To help support
the roof, he installed distinctive arched supports and then clamped rear view
mirrors on them that he relies on.
To help reduce the AC load, he insulated the entire boat
down to the water line then applied solar and privacy tint film on all the
windows. The reverse-cycle HVAC system is ducted throughout the boat and Troyanek
paid particular attention to circulating return air so the boat is well-ventilated.
He also has exhaust vents on the range and in the shower.
Underneath the wheel house, the cuddy has been converted to
a storage and work area and to make access easier throughout the boat for
maintenance, all the bulkheads are removable.
The entire superstructure is painted with an elastomeric
paint generally used on mobile home roofs. It remains flexible so it expands
and contracts and is also a good sealer and requires no maintenance.
He carries a small inflatable in a bag strapped to the aft
rails and powers it with an old 1.5hp engine he bought perhaps 25 years ago from
a store then known as Sears, Roebuck and Company.
Never Ending Projects
Troyanek says the boat was a fixer-upper when he bought it
and says he is still fixing it up. Besides everything else, he has put new tile
on the galley and head floor, hung new curtains, is selecting material for new
upholstery and is working on plans to revamp his 12V system. “I’m getting it
ready for the next trip that doesn’t seem to come,” he laughs.
But his planning hadn’t included the need to have both
engines rebuilt. As this article was being written, that was happening because
during a period when he had to be away from the boat last winter, a hard freeze
set in and an unfortunate series of events led to both engine blocks cracking.
The worst part of all this is that the engines only had 57
hours on them. At the time one blew in 2005, he decided to have the other done
at the same time so he could more easily replace some rotten stringers and
re-work the transom.
“A good part of my life has been spent on this boat,” he
says. “I’ve got simple needs so any more than this would be way too much. This
is the way I want to spend my life and I love what I have here.”
When he thinks back on all his experiences and the life he
has led, he is convinced that “I’m one of the luckiest guys to walk the
To read more about Troyanek’s credentials and experiences