Born in Brooklyn, NY, Walter Rybka first tasted salt air during frequent visits to the New York waterfront, sparking a life-long interest in all things maritime. After graduating from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1972, he began sailing in the schooner Pioneer, which ran a sail training program for adjudicated youth based at the South Street Seaport Museum. Between 1977 and 1983, Rybka served as the Restoration Director for the Galveston Historical Foundation’s Elissa, supervising the complete rebuilding of the 1877 iron barque, from a gutted shell to a voyaging vessel. During the next seven years, he divided his time between consulting on numerous ship preservation projects and serving as a watch officer or master in various sail training programs. In 1991, he was recruited by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission as captain of the U.S. Brig Niagara to head a program of both sail training and historic interpretation. His duties also included assisting with the creation of the Erie Maritime Museum which opened in 1998. Since 2001, Captain Rybka has been director of both ship and museum. He still sails part time as relief captain of the U.S. Brig Niagara, now inspected and approved by the U.S. Coast Guard as a Sailing School Vessel. He holds a USCG license as Master, auxiliary sail, 1600 tons, Oceans. In addition, he has served on the advisory board of the American Sail Training Association, as well as advisory panels for the project to sail U.S.S. Constitution and currently for the Museum’s Sailors Speak project. In 2006, the USS Constitution Museum Foundation presented Rybka with that year’s Don Turner Award for historic ship preservation. Also in 2006, the American Sail Training Association recognized him with its Sail Trainer of the Year award. He previously received this same award in 1993.
Captain William (Billy) Sabatini grew up in southeastern Massachusetts on Cape Cod, and so has been around water his entire life. He began sailing traditionally-rigged vessels in Newport, RI, before attending Tabor Academy, an academically rigorous high school in Marion, MA. While at Tabor, Billy sailed for four years on the Schooner Tabor Boy; he also crewed on various other schooners during his summer breaks. In the latter half of his senior year, he restored a 1939 Alden Coastwise Cruiser, Luau, which he sailed throughout New England after graduation. The following year, he sailed Luau to Maine Maritime Academy, where he spent the next four years earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Small Vessel Operations, with a concentration in Sail Training. While at Maine Maritime, Billy worked his way up to the position of Chief Mate of the Academy’s schooner Bowdoin, where he designed and implemented Bowdoin’s sail training program. During his college career, he also assisted in the development of a supplemental seamanship program, applicable to both traditional and modern vessels, for students in all majors at the Academy. Billy was active in the MMA drama club, as an actor, director and producer, and is especially remembered for his star turn in Picasso at the Lapin Agile, in the role of Gaston. Billy began his career at the U.S. Brig Niagara in 2005, as 3rd Mate, advancing to Chief Mate in 2008 and Captain in 2014. During the winter months, he has served as Mate or Captain on a number of traditionally-rigged vessels on every coast of the United States. Over the last two decades, he has sailed the East coast from Nova Scotia to Venezuela, the West Coast from Alaska to Mexico, and the entire Great Lakes system, as well as crossing the Atlantic twice. As Billy enters his 12th season on Niagara, and his third season as Captain, he is very much looking forward to another year as the Captain of America’s foremost Sailing School Vessel, one of our nation’s most important historical relics. Billy lives in Erie with his wife Megan, who is a teacher at Union City High School, their dog Bruin, and their cats Commodore and Dory.
David Goldman has been involved with Niagara since 2008, when he served here as an Able Seaman. He has worked his way up the ranks and is now second in command. As Chief Mate, he is the captain’s executive officer, tasked with organizing and leading the ship’s crew. David has sailed numerous traditional sailing ships on the East Coast and Caribbean. David originally hails from Rochester, NY. His hobbies include vintage Volkswagens and flying his DeLorean and Enterprise around his office.
Director of Marine Operations / Relief Mate
Joseph Thaddeus Lengieza is Director of Marine Operations for the U.S. Brig Niagara, a position which includes planning, logistics, outreach, and curriculum development duties, as well as sailing onboard the vessel. He has been involved with Niagara since 1998 and has worked onboard a number of other sailing ships, including Pride of Baltimore II and the U.S.S. Constellation. He is a Master’s candidate in Maritime History and Underwater Archaeology at East Carolina University.
Adam has been the ship’s carpenter since December 2013. As the ship’s carpenter, Adam leads all carpentry projects in the shop and on the ship. He is responsible for maintaining the condition of the ship’s hull, the masts, and spars. Adam served for four years in the U.S. Army and was deployed in Kosovo. Adams professional carpentry career began in 2002 when he attended the Apprentice Shop in Rockland, Maine. Adam is a sci-fi fan, and hopes everyone has the force with them and that they all may live long and prosper.
Chris Cusson first sailed with the ship in 2008. This season will be in his 5th with Niagara. As Second Mate, Chris leads a watch underway and serves under the direction of the Captain and Chief Mate. Chris is also the ship’s engineer and volunteer coordinator. Chris grew up in CT and Newfoundland. He served four years in the U.S. Coast Guard, attended Maine Maritime Academy, UCONN, and has sailed numerous traditional sailing ships. Chris enjoys adventure, board games, and karaoke.
Fourth Mate / Boatswain
Able Seafarer / Medical Officer
Ordinary Seafarer/Purser/Gift Shop Manager
Emily Hoffman returns to Niagara this year for her 5th season as an Ordinary Seafarer, Purser, and Gift Shop Manager. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, she has sailed on the Corwith Cramer and Niagara. She holds a degree in Criminal Justice from Northeastern University, and holds a Merchant Mariner License issued by the U.S. Coast Guard. She used to work as a Public Defense Investigator in Boston and Washington, D.C. and she spent the winter living on a farm in Vermont with 35 Siberian Huskies. Her interests include sailing, cooking, dog sledding, skiing, and swimming.