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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.

In 1968, 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 overall, beating much larger conventional boats. 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.

In 1976, a 31-foot trimaran that 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. 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.

Newick 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 UC Berkeley. He ran a boat shop in Eureka, worked with Quakers helping disadvantaged people in Mexico, 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 Moe. They later lived in Martha's Vineyard and Kittery Point, Maine.

Newick is also survived by his daughter Val Wright; his brother, Bob; and six grandchildren.

His family said his last boat design was a freighter that he had hoped to build for the people of the Tonga islands. The ship was faster and more reliable than vessels currently used to transport cargo from one island to another, Blair said.

Newick's family hopes to follow through on his dream of putting that design into production, but only after they make good on their promise to publish his book about his life and work.

"Mom and I only promised that we'd finish his book, and that made him smile in the last few days of his life," Blair said.

When asked where he had gotten the ideas for the 140 or so designs he completed, 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."

(This report includes information from Staff Writer Martin Espinoza and the New York Times.)