Meet the Crew: Walter Rybka
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.