Start Sailing Now: Ryan Newland

 Ryan Newland, left, taught himself to sail but doesn't recommend it. At age 23, with visions of white sand beaches and cocktails, Ryan Newland was convinced he could quickly learn to sail, so he bought a 27-foot boat and taught himself. These days, he’s teaching others in his position as the adult programs manager for the community sailing program Sail Nauticus in Norfolk. Tell us about how you got into sailing? I got into sailing to see the world. I am from Charlotte, NC, and had never been sailing before. But after backpacking Europe and driving around the U.S., it sounded reasonable that I could travel in my own home, moved along by the wind. It not only sounded way more affordable, but visions of white sand beaches and cocktails are pretty alluring. It was just after college, and I was 23 at the time. I bought a Watkins 27 with my sister, convinced that I could learn to sail pretty quickly, and would have the boat fixed up and ready to travel to the Bahamas in around a year. Did you have any preconceived notions about sailing that proved true or untrue? That boat ownership is anywhere close to affordable. That being said, the places I have visited made it all worth it. How did you learn to sail? Have you taken any formal classes? I taught myself over the years. I had considered formal classes in the beginning, but they were out of my price range. I had a lot of books onboard about how to sail, and would consult the relevant section for whatever I was doing. Reading about kedging was by far the easiest, because I was already aground. I stumbled around like that for two or three years in Beaufort, NC. It really all came together for me when I was hired by Offshore Sailing School as an instructor. I have to give props to Kevin Wensley for hiring me, because I still had a lot of gaps in my knowledge at that point. He mentored me, and teaching classes helped fill those gaps quickly. Eventually I was managing the branch in St. Michaels, MD, and teaching courses up to Coastal Passagemaking and Navigation. What has been your sailing experience thus far, and what are your future plans? My wife Erika and I have had the pleasure of owning three boats over the years. Piper, the Watkins 27 was a real piece of work when she moved aboard. I was anchored in Beaufort, and I had torn apart the toilet and the engine. In other words, I had no electricity, no engine, and no head. I am incredibly lucky to have such an amazing woman. Together, we bought a Morgan 34 named Aqua Vitae and fixed it up. It was an amazing boat, but we wanted something heavier. After a year and a half on shore, we got married and bought a Hans Christian 38. We were in St. Petersburg, FL, at that point, and travelled to the Chesapeake, then to the Bahamas. We came back to the U.S. to earn money and landed in Norfolk, VA. Mistral, our Hans Christian 38T, is now kept at Little Creek. Who knows what’s next, maybe Europe, maybe California via the canal. If someone were interested in learning to sail, what would you tell him? Haha—Don’t teach yourself. The benefit of a structured learning environment cannot be overstated. Community sailing centers are popping up everywhere, and they provide affordable access to boats and classes, as well as mentorship opportunities with members who have been sailing for years. For more information on how to get involved sailing, visit