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Article Published August 12, 2020

Amy Zupan: A Watery Tale

By Rita Christopher/

Amy Zupan was surprised. She thought, given the particular challenges of this summer, that activity at the Safe Harbor Marina at Essex Island would be slower than usual. Amy is the manager at Essex Island.

“In March I thought ‘Oh no, this is going to be a different summer.’ I thought the marina was going to be empty,” she says.

Far from it. It has been busier than usual at the marina. In fact, people seemed to want their boats in the water even earlier.

“I guess it was just a different place to social distance,” Amy says. “People have been buying boats; people have been working on their boats. We’re pretty much at capacity.”

For those who have adopted a boat-as-office strategy, there is wifi throughout the marina.

According to Amy, one boat came in June for a stay of a few nights. That stay kept getting extended. Now it’s August and at the time Amy was speaking with a reporter, the boat was still there.

At that recent interview, there was another challenge on very much on Amy’s mind: Isaias, with winds varying between hurricane and tropical storm force, advancing up the East Coast.

Amy says though there are far more male marina managers than female, she feels completely comfortable in her position, crediting the Safe Harbor organization, which owns more than 100 marinas located throughout the United States. Still, she admits some customers are surprised to see her.

“I think it is because I am only 5-feet two-[inches]. I look young; some people think I am 16,” she says.

Actually, Amy is 32.

The path to marina manager wasn’t a direct one for Amy, who grew up in Essex. She had always wanted to be a teacher.

“I can never remember wanting to be anything else,” she says.

She credits her decision to become an English teacher with two mentors at Valley Regional High School, English teachers Carolyn Crehan and Kristi Schmidt, as well as by a course she took at the University of Connecticut emphasizing critical inquiry skills.

“It’s looking at the world through a critical lens asking questions, turning a problem around and asking questions,” she says.

She wanted to impart those skills to high school students, teaching first at the Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton and then at Daniel Hand High School in Madison. One of her goals as a teacher was to convince students who weren’t fond of English class that they had the ability to succeed in it.

“I loved to see students who hated English, how they could transform from the beginning of the year to the end, to sit with them at the end when they realized how far they had come, watching them grow,” she says.

Still, in 2018 when she was offered the marina manager job at Essex Island, where she had continued to work summers, Amy took it. The decision wasn’t easy for her, but it was an opportunity with Safe Harbor, a growing organization, that she thought she would regret if she passed up.

“I didn’t want to ask myself ‘What If,’” she recalls.

Her former students aren’t entirely gone from her life; she has hired a few the way she started out herself at the marina, for summer jobs.

Every once in a while, she admits, the English teacher in her surfaces and she has an impulse to correct a sentence, but she refrains.

Along with the boating know-how she needs to run the marina operation, Amy says patience is a skill that always helps, particularly when dealing with frustrated owners who have just had trouble docking their boats.

“I understand where they are coming from; they just want to be heard most of the time,” she says.

She admits that the river current makes the slips at Essex Island tricky for docking maneuvers.

Some of the people with whom she now deals professionally are the same people who hired Amy and her twin sister Ashley as baby sitters when they were growing up in Essex. Amy’s mother Judy McCann, was at one time the children’s librarian at the Essex Library.

“There are so many people who know me, who know my mom. I baby sat for so many people,” Amy says.

She joined the Essex Board of Trade soon after taking the marina position.

“It means so much for me to live here; I grew up here, I want the town to thrive and do well,” she says.

Winter on Essex Island, with no boaters, is lonely for Amy, a full-time employee of the marina. But there is still work to do.

“Winter is when we plan for next summer,” she says.

She does have some company: Her dog, a golden doodle named Kentucky, usually shortened to Tuck, comes with her every day. During the summer, Tuck’s visits are restricted to one a week.

Even though she’s now a marine industry professional, Amy doesn’t go out in her own boat. There is a reason for that: She and her husband Brett do not own one at the moment. But when they do, she’d like a power boat.

“I like to go fast,” she says.