The last two years have been tough for many in the sailboat business, but there was little looking back at last week's conference, co-sponsored by Sail America and Yanmar. Some 140 industry leaders met over two days at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, for an educational series of presentations and workshops aimed at helping businesses share best practices and gain new ideas. Topics ranged from sales and leadership communications to workshops on the changing Internet and sustainability in sailing, and my impression was that participants left energized and full of ideas to put to into practice.

Dean Brenner, head of the Latimer Group as well as chair of the US SAILING Olympic Sailing Committee, delivers keynote on Leadership Communication.

Dean Brenner, chair of the US SAILING Olympic Sailing Committee, delivers keynote on Leadership Communication.

As a volunteer on the conference committee for Sail America, the sailing industry trade association, I worked with George Day, of Blue Water Sailing magazine, and Scot West, of Ronstan, to help organize the talks. That was an education in itself, brainstorming different topics and envisioning what would be most useful.

I also signed myself up to moderate a workshop panel discussing Social Media Networking and probably learned even more than attendees as a result. Our panel included Sabre Yachts/Back Cove Yachts vice president Bentley Collins; Jamestown Distributors president Mike Mills; and Caffeine Interactive vice president Sam Tuttle. Each presented a unique view and answered questions based on their experiences in blogging (Bentley), YouTube and Facebook (Mike), and advising a variety of businesses on social-media use (Sam).

A few of my takeaways from the conference came from The Latimer Group's Dean Brenner, who delivered a keynote on Leadership Communication, for example, identifying effective leaders who practice "servant leadership"—identifiable by his or her consistent use of the pronoun "we" as opposed to "I". Barrett Canfield, of South Coast Yachts in San Diego, offered a great breakdown of the types of boat buyers and their different needs. Neal Schwartz of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers' Association pointed out that despite lower participation rates in many watersports, sailing has seen slight growth in recent years, with 4.34 million people sailing at least once each year.

Always inspirational was Vince Morvillo, of Sea Lake Yacht Sales, in Kemah, Texas. Vince talked about the gift of change and some of the ways they coped with and developed business in spite of the hurricane damage to the region, as well as the recession that followed. As a sailor, Vince won the world championship for blind sailors several years ago, and then, five years ago, he won the Ensign Class National Championship. I first met Vince the day after his Ensign victory which resulted in a Sailing World magazine story ("A Different Kind of Vision") about his remarkable achievement racing against a fleet of sighted sailors.

It's probably not unusual to leave a conference such as this with plans to communicate better, focus more, and be bolder in seizing new opportunities. I certainly flew home to Rhode Island with several such ideas in my notes last Friday. But just as valuable was meeting new friends and old, looking at my work through their eyes and vice versa, and gaining energy from their enthusiasm.

—John Burnham