Nautical Minds in a Nautical Town

A packed house

It’s been a week since our conference ended and, while it took the Tall Ships America crew a few days to decompress and absorb all that happened during the blur of those three days,  we are sprinting forward with fresh ideas and enthusiasm. 

We had 188 attendees come to our annual conference from all over the country (with England, Norway, and Sweden represented, too!) ready to learn, ready to share and ready to have a little fun (all right, a lot of fun).  Sunday night we kicked off the conference with a Welcome Reception at the Marriott Hotel.  It was a night of catching up with old friends and greeting the new attendees. This year, with the generous support of Maritime Simulation Institute, there were 28 attendees who came as part of the crew grant program.  All first time attendees were marked with a retina-searing hot pink ribbon so it was easy to pick them out in a crowd and make sure they were having a good time. Tall ship sailors are nothing if not inclusive.

Monday morning rolled around, bright and early, with the Opening Keynote Speaker, Ralf Steitz, President of USMMA Sailing Foundation, setting an upbeat and energetic tone to the rest of the conference. I mean, check out his photo on the website –

And then we were off! Sessions on social media marketing, the latest issues in the regulatory realm,  effective fundraising for small non-profits, and marine weather prediction technology, among many others,  kept attendees furiously scribbling notes and engaging in a wide range of discussions.  All of the sessions from the conference can be found on the 2012 Speakers and Sessions page. That evening, Captain Jonathan Kabak and I hosted a group of 25 young crew members at the Tall Ships America HQ for dinner. After dinner we all trooped back  to the hotel for a reception sponsored by the Host Ports of the TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE Atlantic Coast 2012 and the TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE Great Lakes 2013.  

Tuesday morning came too quick and we found ourselves already halfway through the conference.  There was a buzz of excitement throughout the day as we talked about “Prom Night”, a.k.a Annual Sail Training Awards Presentation and Banquet, always the capstone to the conference. But, there were things to learn first – more weather (we’re sailors, we’re obsessed), sponsorship, rigging inspections, risk management, and blog content, but there was so much more…(2012 speakers and sessions page). The always funny and engaging David Niebuhr brought the conference to a close with his final remarks, and singer Tom Kastle led the entire room in a sea shanty.  

To aid in his presentation on Rig Inspection, one of the captain's brought a six foot replica of ADVENTURESS

Finally (finally!) it was prom/awards night. Some people dressed up more than others – 

But everyone was excited for the dinner, awards, and the band.  As always, the awards were an emotional rollercoaster as we paid special recognition to a friend who is no longer with us, recognition of a  lifetime of being a mentor, teacher, and crewmate was awarded to a dear friend, and people and programs were singled out for their excellence within our industry. The awardees are nominated by their peers so the presentation is especially sweet and poignant. Here is a list of all of the winners (photos are forthcoming). 

Janka Bielak Medal – presented by Peter Cardy and Paul Bishop of Sail Training International – it is awarded to a person who has made outstanding contributions to international friendship and understanding. 

Awarded to: David Wood 

Volunteer of the Year: Captain Deborah Hayes, GERONIMO

Sail Trainer of the Year: CAPT Eric Jones, USCG Barque EAGLE

Sail Training Program of the Year: Ocean Classroom Foundation

Sea Education Program of the Year: Sea I Mester

Port of the Year: Channel Islands Harbor, Oxnard, California

Special Recognition: Tall Ships Photographer Thad Koza

Lifetime Achievement Award: George Moffett 

After the awards, the dance floor was a seething mass of sailors as we danced until midnight to the energetic music of The Rock ( They are an amazingly fun cover band and they even indulged us for a few encores. Every night should end with Guns ‘N Roses. But the night wasn’t over yet.  We still had the annual Lane Briggs Memorial Tea Party. Glasses were raised high, voices blended together in shanty singing, and memories were shared of Captain Lane Briggs until the wee hours. 

Wednesday dawned early and bright as we headed into the Safety Under Sail Forum and the Education Under Sail Forum. These two separate forums are aimed mainly at sailors and educators, and this year we had great speakers and stimulating discussion. The Safety Forum included presentations and workshops on severe weather, stability, and the human factor in Bridge Resource Management. In another room, the Education Forum included presentations on emerging trends in education and financial sustainability in our education programs. One final night out, a Thank You dinner with the conference planning committee,  and then…Newport was strangely quiet. The sailors had left the building. 

It’s always the sign of a good event when you have a hard time believing that it is over already. This year was no exception. There was such positive energy in all of the sessions and at all of the events. We went out of our way to reach out to a younger demographic this year with our crew grant and, despite looking a bit overwhelmed at some points, I think the grant recipients got a lot out of their first conference experience. At least one that I know of walked away with a new job. We’ve committed to sustaining this crew grant program so tell your friends to apply next year.  But it wasn’t just about younger crew, the sessions and speakers also served all of our members’ future growth and success. Next year, our conference is in the Great Lakes so pencil us in and save your pennies. Fair Winds!

Photos courtesy of Zachary Simonson-Bond and Stephanie Robb


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