I would like to add my congratulations to Walter Rybka on his retirement from
the Brig Niagara and Erie Maritime Museum and in recognition of his long and inspirational career in the maritime world.
At the end of his slide show and talk, Walter got out his two models—one of the ship with masts, yards,
and running rigging, and the other of one mast with yards and sails with their “gear.”
For over an hour, Walter crawled along the floor with the two models demonstrating
how to tack and wear ship, followed with the details of how to set and strike the square sails.
Around him were the members of the yacht club, crawling along as they learned the intricacies of sailing a 19thcentury barque.
Grown men and women were fascinated with this hands-on demonstration
The local “trainees,” drawn from that yacht club evening, assisted the ship’s crew, learned the proper way to go aloft,
and immersed themselves in learning the pin rail and practicing setting and striking sails at the dock.
For a week, they had the privilege of being a part of Elissa’s volunteer crew and the excitement built until the day of the sail.
For one glorious day, they could understand the thrill of sailing a part of history, understand why so many had devoted so much time
and money to the preservation not just of the ship but of the arcane skills necessary to maintain her and sail her.
Thirty five years later, it is mostly new people who keep Elissa alive, but the same devotion
and enthusiasm exists today as it did when I first watched Walter crawling around on that floor with his models,
calling out the commands and hauling on his tiny braces and halyards, clews and bunts.
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