Renowned, revered multi-hull designer Dick Newick dies

Dick Newick, sailing recently in California aboard a boat he designed. — Photo by Gary Helmz

Dick Newick an innovative marine architect who pioneered the development of light, fast multihulls in designs he created and built on Martha’s Vineyard in 1960s and 70s, died on August 28, in Sebastopol, California, at 87.

Mr. Newick designed catamarans, including the big, well known Moxie, which was an astonishing sight flying across Vineyard Haven Harbor at speeds that made old time schooner types blanch. And, he built a class of tri-hulls – a main hull flanked by two balancing hulls called amas. The AC72 catamarans with 130-foot-tall wing sails now competing for the America’s Cup in San Francisco Bay draw on design ideas Mr. Newick championed.

“Dick Newick’s contributions to the development of multihull design in the second half of the 20th century simply can’t be overstated,” said Dave Gerr. Mr. Gerr was the director of the Westlawn Institute of Marine Technology, when Mr. Newick was inducted into the North American Boat Designers Hall of Fame in 2008. “Not only would multihulls look different today without Dick’s innovations, but his designs paved the way for the universally acknowledged offshore-capable speedsters they are.”

Mr. Newick moved to the Vineyard from St. Croix in the United States Virgin Islands. An early creation was the Trice, a 36-foot trimaran, or three-hulled boat, built of plywood and fiberglass.

The following is from The New York Times obituary, published September 16:

“Mr. Newick decided to enter the Trice in the annual race from Newport, R.I., to Bermuda, “to see how my boats stacked up against the big boys.” Skeptics abounded: an editorial in a sailing magazine called it “unsafe on any sea.” Mr. Newick waited until the bigger traditional boats set off, and then tagged along. The Trice, with its crew of four, beat all but two much larger traditional boats.

“Three years later, Mr. Newick designed his version of an ancient Polynesian outrigger canoe known as a proa. Like the traditional boats, it had no bow or stern and could sail with either end forward. People said his boat, Cheers, seemed to have emerged from a science fiction novel.

“In 1968, Mr. Newick entered it in a quadrennial one-person trans-Atlantic race — from Plymouth, England, to Newport — sponsored by the British newspaper The Observer. The race, known as the Observer Single-Handed Trans-Atlantic Race, or Ostar, imposed no restrictions on size or design. Skippered by Tom Follett, Cheers finished third over all, beating much larger conventional boats. Mr. Follett was the first American to finish the race.

Cheers is now owned by a French couple, who restored it to its original form. The government of France, where long-distance sail competition is a major sport, declared the boat a historical monument.

“”I think it was not just the speed but also the beauty of Newick’s boats that so strongly stimulated the aesthetic sensibilities of the French,” wrote Richard Boehmer, a nautical historian.

“In 1976, a 31-foot trimaran that Mr. Newick designed, Third Turtle, finished third in the trans-Atlantic race, losing to two French boats, a 73-foot monohull and a 236-foot juggernaut. In 1980, Philip Weld, a 65-year-old retired newspaper publisher, skippered Moxie, another Newick trimaran, to victory in the solo Atlantic race. Mr. Weld called that boat “a breakthrough in showing how science can use wind to drive vessels.”

“For the next quarter-century, multihulls won almost every long-distance offshore event they were allowed to enter.

“Richard Cooper Newick, who his family said died of heart failure, was born in Hackensack, N.J., on May 9, 1926. He grew up in Rutherford, N.J., where at age 10 he built two kayaks with his father and brother. At 12, he designed and built two kayaks by himself. At 14, he sold plans for a kayak to a schoolmate for $5.

“After a hitch in the Navy, he earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley. He ran a boat shop, worked with Quakers helping disadvantaged people in Mexico, and then roamed hundreds of miles on Europe’s rivers and canals in a kayak. He sailed the oceans until he landed in St. Croix, where he met and married Patricia Ann Moe. They later lived in Martha’s Vineyard and Kittery Point, Me.

“In addition to his wife, Mr. Newick is survived by his daughters, Lark Blair and Val Wright, both of whom have boat designs named after them; his brother, Bob; and six grandchildren.

When asked where he had gotten the ideas for the 140 or so designs he completed, Mr. Newick, who believed in reincarnation, said he had been a Polynesian boat builder in a previous life. He called the Polynesians’ 4,000-year-old canoes “the wave of the future,” especially as he reimagined them.

“The ancient and modern multihull boats, he explained, shared a theme: simplicity. “It takes a good and creative person,” he said, “to do something simply.”