Richard Cooper Newick, a pioneer in the design of multihull sailboats that have transformed competitive sailing, died Aug. 28 in Sebastopol, where he spent the last nine years of his life.
The famed 87-year-old designer died of complications from late stage cancer, his wife, Patricia Ann Moe, said Tuesday.
Newick, a mild-mannered man who has been described as honest and loyal and who loved inspiring young people, was at the forefront of the resurgence of multihull boat design in the 1960s. His boats with two and three hulls often bested larger, costlier — and slower — conventional yachts in major races. He contended that old-fashioned vessels had one advantage: they made nice floating decks for cocktail parties.
"People sail for fun," he once said, "and no one has convinced me it's more fun to go slow than to go fast."
The AC72 catamarans with 130-foot-tall wing sails now competing for the America's Cup in San Francisco Bay descend from concepts Newick helped develop.
"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, director of the Westlawn Institute of Marine Technology, when 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."
Newick lived in Sebastopol with his wife on the same street as his oldest daughter, Lark Blair. The couple moved to Sebastopol almost nine years ago after leaving their home in Maine. Moe said that just before settling along the North Coast, she and her husband had considered moving to Mexico, to a small town north of Puerto Vallarta. But they decided against it because they feared the town was becoming too touristy.
After visiting his daughter and son-in-law in Sebastopol, Newick fell in love with Sonoma County. As a youth, Newick spent a lot of time in California and Oregon and "coming back to California was just second nature for Dick ... the proximity to ocean was always a big thing, and we just loved the climate," his wife said.
Newick began giving serious thought to design in the late 1950s. He was living in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he had ended up after he had caught a barracuda in nearby seas and needed a place to cook it. He started chartering boats, and designed some of them himself. An early creation was the Trice, a 36-foot trimaran, or three-hulled boat, built of plywood and fiberglass.
In 1964, 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." Newick waited until the bigger traditional boats set off, then tagged along. The Trice, with its crew of four, beat all but two much larger traditional boats.
Three years later, 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.