The holder of a 50-ton Captains license and an American Red Cross waterfront lifeguard with First Aid, CPR and AED certification, Liz Sistare is the newly minted Watercraft Operations Supervisor at Mystic Seaport Museum (MSM) in Mystic, Connecticut.

“I grew up in southeastern Connecticut and went to East Lyme High School,” says Liz, “but didn’t grow up sailing or boating. I started sailing at 19 at college. UConn – Avery Point has a 1-credit Learn to Sail class that I took at the beginning of my sophomore year.”

Liz gleaned wisdom from fine teachers. “Prescott Littlefield runs the program at UConn, and I learned everything I know about dinghy sailing and racing from him. He taught me how to sail, how to race, and set an example on how to manage a sailing program. After college I started sailing with him on his J/29 Zig Zag Zoom and then his J/24 Life Aquatic. I bought Life Aquatic last winter and he continues to sail with me. I had a very successful first season with the boat thanks to his mentorship.”

“I met Paul Jennings while sailing in Eastern Connecticut Sailing Association races with Prescott. We sailed against him when he owned his Noe 27 En Charette. I started sailing with Paul in 2018 after he bought his Cal 40 Towhee with the goal of doing the Newport Bermuda Race. I had never done an overnight race before sailing with Paul, so offshore safety, sailing in the dark, standing watch, and distance race tactics were all new. I’ve done Newport Bermuda 2022, Annapolis to Newport 2018 and ‘23, Marblehead to Halifax 2019, Around Long Island 2018, and a few Block Island and Vineyard Races with Towhee. The most important thing I learned from Paul is that a good sailor is prepared and can anticipate and plan. Successful offshore racing is all about being organized and having a well-prepared boat and crew.”

“In terms of career mentorship, Captain Dan Thompson taught me how to be a Captain. I started working with Dan while I was in college. I crewed for him several summers on the schooner Mary E out of the Connecticut River Museum in Essex, and helped deliver her to Maine after she was sold and then worked another couple summers on Onrust (out of the Connecticut River Museum) as I worked on getting my captain’s license. I learned a lot about large boat handling from Dan, but I think the most important thing he taught me is a personality trait: remaining calm in any situation with the ability to improvise. Prescott, Paul and Dan all share that, and it’s something that makes you a good mariner.”

Liz earned her Master’s in American and New England Studies with a focus in Museums and Public Culture at the University of Maine. “A lot of that study was on maritime related topics. I did a study abroad/May term class my senior year aboard the tall ship Niagara, which made me want to pursue a career in experiential/museum education and sailing.”

As Supervisor of the Sailing Center at Mystic Seaport Museum for five years, Liz taught three seasons of sailing classes, managed both a residential and day summer sailing camp, and maintained a fleet of sailboats and powerboats. “My new job is Watercraft Operations Supervisor. I will be the primary captain of the historic 1908 steamboat Sabino, and will be managing all the deckhands and captains for Sabino as well as Mystic Seaport Express and the sailboat Breck Marshall. All these vessels take Museum visitors out on the Mystic River for short narrated trips.”

“The Museum offers so many opportunities to get out on the water. Visitors can take out a boat on their own at the Boathouse or take a short cruise on the Sabino or Breck. There are sailing classes and camps for all ages. There are also boats that can be chartered for short daytime trips or longer multi-day trips. All these things that make it a special place for our visitors/guests/students also make it a rewarding place to work. I really enjoy teaching maritime skills and sharing stories with visitors and students, helping them build a connection to the river and the water.”

The MSM Sailing Center received US Sailing’s Creative Innovations in Programming Award at the 2023 Sailing Leadership Forum. “The Sailing Center has never been a typical youth sailing program,” explains Liz, who accepted the award. “Kids can learn about boat building, blacksmithing, wood carving, and river science. Those activities draw in kids that might not be initially interested in sailing, but through our programs they get to have a positive sailing experience that makes them want to learn more and spend more time on the water.”

Liz is an avid member of the Off Soundings Club, Frostbite Yacht Club and the Mystic River Mudhead Sailing Association. “I’ve been racing with these organizations for over ten years now,” she enthuses. “I started racing JY15s at Frostbite Yacht Club and I’m currently the Commodore and serve as the Principal Race Officer. I’ve done Off Soundings races on a variety of boats, most frequently Zig Zag Zoom and Towhee, and now my own Life Aquatic. I currently serve as the Youth Liaison chair for the Off Soundings Club, and on the Mudhead’s board as Secretary. The Mudhead Donzo Wednesday Night Series is something I look forward to every week. It’s a great time sailing with friends and fantastic competition!”

“For me racing is an accomplishment, working with a crew towards a shared goal, pushing the boat to get the maximum amount of speed, says Liz, who is looking forward to Newport Bermuda next year. “It’s never the exact same experience. There are always new challenges, new boats, and different people to sail with.” ■

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