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Posted: September 16th, 2010

Meet the Crew: Walter Rybka

Senior Captain Walter Rybka in his office at the Maritime Museum

Senior Captain Walter Rybka in his office at the Maritime Museum

Position: Flagship Niagara’s Senior Captain

Job description: Rybka only sails about 25 percent of the time, dedicating his work to administrative duties for the Niagara League and museum. Off-season, Rybka works to “make sure there is a next season.”

When he is onboard, Rybka jokes he’s there for quality assurance. Instead of taking over the ship, he acts as “coach,” letting the younger mates learn from doing as much as possible.

Hails from: Suburban New York City

How he got started: “Didn’t know any better,” said Rybka with a slight smile. Describing his career he said, “It’s kind of like the kid who ran away to join the circus and got away with it.” One summer during college, instead of saving for school working a lucrative job, Rybka took out a loan to pay his tuition, taking an opportunity to sail.

“I always wanted to do this kind of thing, and always thought if I could ever do it, I better drop everything and do it. And now I’ve ‘postponed’ life for 40 years.”

Turning landlubbers into sailors: “There is not so helpless and pitiable an object in the world as a landsman beginning a sailor’s life,” Rybka quotes from Richard Henry Dana’s “Two Years Before the Mast. Watching people learn is one of the most satisfying parts of the job, said Rybka; however, before they get accustomed life aboard a ship, students go through a rough process of adjustment.

“The first week they’re bewildered, uncomfortable, thinking ‘What the hell did I let myself in for?’” said Rybka, describing the process. “After the third week, they don’t want to go home.”

Tall Ships Erie: Pleased with the outcome of Tall Ships Erie 2010, the first of its kind produced in the city, Rybka said any glitches that came up were minor. “Sheer volume of people is a nice problem to have,” Rybka said regarding the lines and number of visitors the festival drew.

Looking ahead: The Battle of Lake Erie’s bicentennial comes in three years, September 13, 2010. Rybka said the recent festival was a good opportunity to work out the kinks for what will hopefully be a bigger celebration for the historic anniversary.

See the Flagship Niagara featured in They Started in Erie.

Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: September 14th, 2010

Meet the Crew: Chief Mate Billy Sabatini

Billy Sabatini, Chief Mate, in a rare moment without his sunglasses

Chief Mate Billy Sabatini in a rare moment without his sunglasses

Position: Chief Mate aboard Flagship Niagara

What that means: As second in command aboard the ship, Sabatini works with the crew to make sure daily duties are performed business-as-usual.

“The captain is focused on the next port, my focus is inside the ship, daily operations, and what’s happening on deck,” said Sabatini.

Hails from: Sabatini hails from the east coast: Massachusetts. He first got his feet wet with sailing aboard the Tabor Boy at his high school, Tabor Academy in Marion, Massachusetts.

Education: A 2005 graduate of Maine Maritime Academy, Sabatini’s degree is perfect for his job description: a major in Small Vessels Operation with a concentration in Sail Training. Sabatini is the first of his school to combine those interests.

Sabatini signs a visitor's Tall Ships Erie passport aboard the Niagara

Sabatini signs a visitor's Tall Ships Erie passport aboard the Niagara

Loves his job: Sabatini said people that go through Niagara’s sail training programs come out empowered people.

“I thoroughly enjoy watching people coming on board not knowing anything: how to eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, and they emerge as fully-empowered, able crewmembers, climbing the rigging,” said Sabatini.

Loves Erie: “Everything is so accessible. There’s so much going on all the time—there’s something for everyone,” said Sabatini, who listed Erie’s myriad sports teams and recreational activities. The shipman also happens to swing dance—when he first moved to town, he was grateful to find a thriving swing dancing community.

See the Flagship Niagara featured in They Started in Erie.

Posted in: Uncategorized

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