This Old Boat

March 2012 Feature Gary Kramer

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.

Moving On      

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.

Always Improving

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 engine compartment.

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.

Going Electric

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 system.

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 planet."

To read more about Troyanek's credentials and experiences visit                                                   

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