It takes a lot for Niagara to stay in operation. Described as “a living, breathing” vessel by an Erie Maritime Museum guide, the Niagara needs to sail regularly and undergo regular maintenance to stay in shape.
During the summer, the Niagara sails with about 17 paid crewmembers and 20-24 volunteers. However, the Niagara keeps five full-time employees all year round to ensure that Niagara stays maintained on the water and in the community, to ensure she sails for seasons to come.
Here are Niagara’s five full-time employees:
Walter Rybka: Senior Captain- Rybka describes his role onboard as “relief captain,” only getting to sail about 25 percent of the time. This highly experienced sailor coaches the younger mates to do as much as possible, to gain their own experience. Rybka works with Niagara’s administrative needs.
Wesley Heerssen: Captain- The ship’s captain is always looking towards the next port, and Heerssen often deals with planning and administration.
Billy Sabatini: Chief Mate- Focused with the crew and activities onboard the ship, Sabatini often helps the ship’s captain, but also manages Niagara’s winter maintenance.
Pat Crosby: 4th Mate/Carpenter/Engineer- This indispensable crewmember makes sure Niagara runs smoothly, stays free of leaks, and ensures Niagara stays well-maintained.
Rob Aspinwal: Boatswain- Aspinwal works in the Niagara’s “Tar Pit,” the work area inside the museum so-called for the tar-covered lines maintained there. He maintains the ship’s rigging.
See the Flagship Niagara featured in They Started in Erie.