Jerry Lojka is proof that timing is everything in life.
Lojka spent 29 years with the Midwest City Fire Department, handling the department's investigations, community outreach and media duties.
When he decided to retire, the 55-year-old was far from ready to spend his remaining days sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch. And as luck would have it, he didn't have to.
Lojka is now a captain on The Devon Explorer, an Oklahoma River Cruises sightseeing and ferryboat that sails the Oklahoma River. He had served as a deck hand and pilot on one of the boats before his retirement. When the season begins in April, he will be a full-time captain.
“It's so totally different than emergency services,” he said. “We're dealing with people who are here to enjoy themselves out on the water and see the sights.”
Being on the water is nothing new for Lojka, who grew up in Utah and as a Boy Scout fell in love with sailing. He taught sailing for years on Lake Thunderbird and frequents Lake Murray in south central Oklahoma. He rowed on the Oklahoma River long before it became the destination it is today.
“People ask where do you sail in Oklahoma, but the truth is there are a lot of fantastic places to sail here,” Lojka said.
The city owns the three boats operated by Hornblower Marine, a company that operates boats around the world. Cruises can be up to 90 minutes one way if a passenger rides all the way to Exchange Avenue Landing. Tickets start at $6 one-way for adults.
Lojka said the 17-ton boats are fairly easy to maneuver, but there are hazards on the river. Two locks on the river are operated by a remote control in the pilot house. Negotiating them in bad weather can be tough.
“There are moments when the wind is blowing out of the south and the locks are on the north side that it can get tricky,” he said. “You can get pinned against the wall or grind the boat along the lock. There is some stress associated with the job, but for the most part it's a smooth ride.”
Last summer he met a family from Sweden who had a child undergoing treatment at OU Medical Center. They frequented the river cruises.
“People sightsee for a variety of reasons,” Lojka said. “That family came out to the river because they found it relaxing. It was a way to get away from the stress, which is why I think a lot of people come out to the river and cruise with us. It's just a nice way to spend an afternoon.”