Linda Newland has devoted most of her life to expanding the presence of women in the sailing world. She earned her reputation by pushing limits and working her way into and up in a sport that had previously been something of a boys’ club. Now, as the President of the National Women’s Sailing Association and the Women’s Sailing Foundation she’s empowering new generations of women to feel confident taking the helm.
Linda started sailing in the 1970’s when her then-boyfriend bought a 22-foot sailboat on San Francisco Bay, despite the fact that neither he or Linda actually knew how to sail. The pair just motored around the bay until they had an accident. They struck their mast on a bridge because they didn’t know to radio to ask for the bridge to rise. After that Linda decided she needed to learn how to sail. She enrolled in lessons and discovered that she really liked it.
She quickly started sailing a Santana 22 at a local yacht club with an all-women crew.
“We were the first all-women crew to race with the guys,” she said. “And we just didn’t want to be last. The guys weren’t very welcoming.”
But the crew gained their credibility at the yacht club one day during a casual beer can race when the women beat their male competitors.
Linda and one of her crewmates then started a women’s sailing club at the crewmate’s yacht club.
“I’m proud of that, and getting more women into the sport,” Linda said.
Not long after that Linda became “entranced” with single-handed sailing and in 1981 she single-handed in a race from San Francisco to Hawaii. A year later she competed in a single-handed race from San Francisco to Japan.
In the early 1990’s Linda met Doris Colgate, President of the Offshore Sailing School, at a sailing seminar for women at a boat show in California. Doris had recently founded the National Women’s Sailing Association. While being a big proponent of teaching women to sail, Linda didn’t get involved with the organization right away, but in 2005 joined the board for the National Women’s Sailing Association and has held several positions before being elected President in 2014.
The National Women’s Sailing Association is a program of the Women’s Sailing Foundation. The group’s mission is “to enrich the lives of women and girls through education and access to the sport of sailing.” To accomplish their mission the group sponsors an annual Women’s Sailing Conference as well as hands-on weekend seminars. Seminars include a diesel engine workshop, a sail repair workshop hosted by Doyle sails, and a 2-day seminar on boat electrical systems.
The Women’s Sailing Foundation also sponsors a program called AdventureSail® that introduces at-risk girls, ages 9-14 years old, to sailing and their local waters. The girls meet mentors and learn leadership, responsibility, teamwork, and environmental stewardship.
“We partner with local yacht clubs and people take girls out on boats for the day,” Linda said. “Many girls have never been on boats before.”
As a follow-up to the program, girls can apply for scholarships to attend sail training programs. This year the Association is giving a scholarship for an AdventureSail graduate to sail aboard the tallship Adventuress, a 100-year old schooner. The trip, called Girls at the Helm, will be a 4-day cruise in the San Juan Islands of Washington State that focuses on tall ship sailing, marine biology, and leadership training. Linda herself has sailed on the Adveturess and is a big supporter of the AdventureSail program.
“I haven’t been to an AdventureSail day yet, but those who do [volunteer] are hooked,” Linda said.
Linda loves teaching sailing, and finds it especially rewarding to teach other women.
“I’ve found that women have a different learning style from men. Women want to talk things out,” she explained. “We like the idea of women teaching women until they get the confidence to go co-ed.”
She said that the most rewarding is teaching women who have been on boats but whose husbands do most of the sailing.
“When you ask them how much they know about boats they always say they don’t know much. But then they have an aha moment when they realize [that they know much more than they thought]. The knowledge is there, and I love that moment.”
Linda encourages any woman interested in sailing to jump in and try it.
“If you’re motivated, don’t let anything hold you back,” she said. “Get professional training and crew on as many boats as possible for experience.”
She also really encourages women to look for conferences and other opportunities to meet fellow women sailors.
“The energy level is amazing,” she said.
Linda lives and sails in Washington State with her husband. The couple stays very involved in sailing and races in a boat that her husband designed. She teaches sailing in the summers.
For the second year in a row, Sailrite has donated products for auction/raffle at the 14th Annual Women’s Sailing Conference, which will be held at the Corinthian Yacht Club in Marblehead, MA on Saturday, June 6, 2015. Proceeds raised help fund AdventureSail programs.
For more information on the conference and the National Women’s Sailing Association visit their website www.womensailing.org.