My Caribbean decade sprawled across the ’60s and ’70s. I did not know when I slipped down to St. Thomas for a month or two it would be the signal intersection of my life, a veer from the conventional track from which I’d never find my way back—nor have I ever looked.
In that decade, three giants were in my life, men taller than any I have known since. The last of them parked his sea boots forever late this past August.
I first met Dick Newick in a sugar cane field in Christiansted, St. Croix. It looked like a sugar cane field to me; to Dick it was a boat yard. Three hulls yearning to be a 36’ trimaran were abuilding. The main hull was to be 3/16” of an inch thick—three layers of 1/16” doorskins—glued together. The layers were held together with industrial staples during the glue-curing stage.
“It’ll revolutionize the industry,” he said, a phrase I heard many times over the next five decades. Humble in every other part of his life, when talking yacht design, he had an ego the size of the Rose Bowl.
The September 16, 2013 edition of The NY Times devoted a quarter page to Dick’s obituary and headlined him as a design visionary: (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/16/sports/dick-newick-sailboat-design-visionary-dies-at-87.html?_r=0) Visionary, revolutionary, I won’t quibble. I know that he produced 140 designs–almost all were three-hulled sailboats–over his designer life–every one outside of traditional sailing norms.
His designs were rooted in the Polynesian outrigger sailing canoes, the likes of which carried Hawaiian explorers across five thousand miles (!) of the South Pacific to their discovery of New Zealand 750 years ago.
Modern materials and technology make no effort to hide the ancient graceful winged shapes of trimarans and proas.
Cheers, a 40’ proa, which finished 3rd in the 1968 Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race (OSTAR), has an asymmetrical shape. Note the masts are on one hull and there is an outrigger on only one side.
In 1976, Third Turtle finished 2nd in OSTAR. The 32 footer was first to arrive at the outer buoy in Newport, RI. In heavy fog and without electronics, skipper Mike Birch elected to wait until morning for the fog to lift. During the night the 73’ Pen Duick VI caught the Turtle and went in the record books.
Moxie, a 50’ trimaran, finished first in the 1980 OSTAR, skippered by Boston publisher, Phil Weld.
Inducted into the hall of fame of North American Yacht Designers in 2008, Newick was honored for what he knew best. But Newick thought outside of every box he chose to enter. Sometimes I’d lose track of him for a year at a time. I’d find out he’d been far up a river in some southern Asian country teaching natives with no boat history to build boats from tree bark and stitch them together with vines so they could get out to where the fish were.
He submitted a design to a Pentagon competition for an unobtrusive patrol boat. Dick’s design was a six-foot, radio-controlled boat powered only by sail, a boat that would stay on station, tacking back and forth with electronics that would monitor ship movements hundreds of miles offshore.
One last time I tip my hat to you, Dick, and say so long. I won’t miss you because my memories are too strong and too present.
For more pix of Newick’s work and a great article, see the Dec/Ja number of Professional Boatbuilder at http://www.stevencallahan.net/images/proboat/newick-dec2010.pdf