Mountains Teach Sue Maffei Plowden ‘74 Resilience at Sea

by Tim O'Keefe

Hometown: Riverside, Connecticut
Currently Residing In: Jamestown, Rhode Island 
Education: University of Rhode Island, A.S. in Commercial Fisheries & Marine Technology

Occupation: Professional sailor including yacht deliveries and mate on school ships, writer/journalist, media specialist. Most recently, involved in international sailing events (America’s Cups 1992-2021, Whitbread/Volvo Ocean Race, world championships) in operations/logistics, management, media, sponsorship, sustainability roles.

What has been the most rewarding experience since graduating? 

One of my favorite experiences was working on sailing school ships that combined my love of sailing, an opportunity to teach high school and college students, and utilized my experience as well as skills from URI’s marine tech program, and of course, we sailed in some beautiful parts of the world including from the U.S./Canadian East Coast to Newfoundland and the Mediterranean Sea.

How did CRMS play a role in your professional, personal, or community life? 

I grew up on the water, so being in Colorado opened my eyes to mountain life and other experiences….river kayaking, climbing, hiking in Canyonlands, senior project at Arcosanti in Arizona, bike trips…activities a bit out of my comfort zone. CRMS gave us the tools and skills to learn to handle ourselves in those situations. I think we were more free range then, our parents were definitely hands off, and communications were pretty analog, so we learned to rely on ourselves and our friends and classmates. That’s who we had. I learned how key a positive attitude is…if you’re interested in learning, just jump in. And don’t be afraid to fail.  There weren’t many women working in boatbuilding, offshore sailing, and other marine trades in the late 70s and 80s— very few mentors as there are now, but you just worked hard, and asked questions when you didn’t know the answers.

What areas of the world have you traveled to or worked in? 

Sailing allows me to travel extensively and provides a link to friends in the industry all over the world. I’ve worked for some extended periods in Italy, and spent a fair amount of time on events in California, Caribbean, United Kingdom, Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, Hong Kong, the Mediterranean, and the Azores.

What are you currently putting your time and energy into? 

I’ve shifted to volunteer work, mostly locally in my town. Working with friends on several sustainability initiatives: we succeeded in getting plastic bags banned, are working on educating the community on alternatives to pesticides (neonics), and working towards town-wide composting. The beauty of Rhode Island is that it’s small which makes it easier to connect and work with other organizations and towns to move the needle.

What advice would you give current CRMS students? CRMS provides such a great opportunity to explore different interests. Try out as much as you can; there will be time later on to drill down into your eventual focus. And if you’re interested in pursuing work in the marine world, it’s a really exciting time as there are so many new opportunities, especially in the Blue Economy (i.e. renewable energy, climate change solutions, aquaculture (seaweed!), water/waste management, tourism and recreation or maritime transportation).

Tags from the story

Academics, Alumni, Service

Recent Posts

Lynne Galluzzo hand-letters each CRMS leather diploma in her home office.

Lettering a Legacy: The Artist Behind 1,300 CRMS Diplomas

Jack Tolan ‘05 Finds True Success Enriching Lives with Music

In Living Color: Design Journey of Alicia Keshishian ‘74