Sunday, March 16, 2008

Rad Man Gets Respect

Multihulls are on-topic so it's doubledog right in 2008 to see Dick Newick as the first multihull designer since Nathanael Herreshoff inducted into the North American Boat Designers Hall of Fame.

In one adventure, Cap't Nat designed and built a cat named Amaryllis, sailed it 200 miles from Bristol to New York at an average of 14 knots, and then gave the 1876 Centennial Regatta fleet such a walloping that he was told to come back with a monohull next time or don't come back at all.

Ninety-three years later another phenomenon arrived, and on that I quote myself: "It's a story worth telling around the campfires of each new generation, how an outside-the-box 40-foot proa sailed by Tom Follett electrified the sailing world with an unexpected third-place finish in the 1968 Singlehanded Transatlantic Race, launching the multihull era in the Atlantic and launching the design career of one Dick Newick."

Newick and motoryacht designer Jack Hargrave are the seventh and eighth designers elected to the Hall of Fame, which is housed at Mystic Seaport Museum and sponsored by Mystic, the Westlawn Institute of Marine Technology, The Landing School, and the American Boat & Yacht Council. Newick and Hargrave join L. Francis Herreshoff, John Alden, Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, C. Raymond Hunt, Philip L. Rhodes and Olin Stephens on a short but distinguished roster.

And: while Herreshoff indeed famously designed multihulls, his stature rests elsewhere. The Wizard of Bristol designed every America's Cup defender from 1893 to 1920 and dominated yacht design for 75 years. Newick is the first Hall of Fame designer whose reputation rests upon multihulls. This at a moment when Olympic catamaran sailors are crying "foul" for being dropped from the 2012 Olympic Games, and while the possibility of a catamaran match for the America's Cup looms in our dark, uncertain skies like a visitor from outer space. (Where you perceive the good, or the evil, is a Rorschach test, my friend.)

When I sat down with Newick—after many years in Maine, he and wife Pat now live high on a remote hill north of San Francisco—he declared, "I wouldn't call myself a bonkers advocate for multihulls." Then, as the conversation evolved, everything the man put forward about his standards for happiness under sail whispered to me that it would have to be a multihull to do what he was talking about.

If you want to mark the beginnings of the French fascination with multihulls, the success of Cheers is as good a place as any to start. It was a French couple who recently rescued that deteriorating proa, restored it, put it back under sail, and got it designated as a monument historique of the Republic of France. However, Newick is definitely, absolutely, not a bonkers advocate of proas. His sweet spot is a trimaran with skinny hulls for low resistance and nonessential weight kept to something in the neighborhood of zero. The standard: "If you can't sail faster than the wind, comfortably and safely, you don't have a high performance boat."

Cheers was the first American boat of any kind to complete a solo transatlantic race. And talk about something from outer space. Proas don't tack. They're bidirectional, so they shunt instead, switching boards up/down. On Cheers, twin loose-luffed sails swung easily around the schooner masts, but the jib had to be transferred end to end. And Newick's design moved the rig, rudders, and accommodation from the leeward hull—the ancient Polynesian style—to the windward hull. We've since seen radical boats race across oceans, but nothing that radical for its moment . . .

To compete at all, Tom Follett had to overcome the reluctance of the race committee, following a capsize in early sea trials. There was this—

Race Committee letter, October, 1967:
Royal Western Yacht Club of England
"I notice that you are taking steps to enable the crew to right the vessel when it has capsized, but my committee are more interested in any steps you may take to stop the capsizing in the first place. We are still of the opinion that to race along at 25 knots in between periodically capsizing is not a proper way to cross the Atlantic..."

Follett's 27-day crossing from the Caribbean to the start line convinced the committee to let him race and change the world. In 1980, in the Newick trimaran, Moxie, Phil Weld became the first American winner of an OSTAR. Weld was a writer's writer, and his account is still a great read. Over the years, Newick multihulls placed 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 and 10 in Atlantic solo racing.

As of 2008, asked about matters such as Olympic selection, Newick says, "If people are stupid enough to ignore multihulls, they get what they deserve." And the America's Cup? "It's interesting that every time they get into a squabble, they resolve it by going to a multihull. Rather backward, that's the kindest thing I can say about them, but I guarantee you that if the BMW Oracle multihull is 90 feet long and 90 feet wide, it's a trimaran. They wouldn't built a cat on those dimensions. They're not that stupid."

Now, dear reader, I know that print is, like, so five minutes ago, but print is actually quite dear to me, and it just happens that the April issue of SAIL magazine has a three-page profile of Dick Newick. If any of this stuff tweaks you, that is the place to learn more about a guy who really could have been headed under sail to St. Thomas, "to earn some money, but I caught a barracuda off St. Croix and anchored to cook it, and stayed 17 years."

There's nothing ordinary in this story. Here we see French psychiatrist Vincent Besin, at left, and the designer, at work on the proa. Vincent and wife Nélie (an M.D. and a French national karate champion) originally approached Newick for a cruising trimaran design, but while he was working on it they fell head over heels in love with the Cheers saga and took a hard left turn. The photo was shot a couple of years ago while Cheers was under restoration . . .

Hundreds turned out for the relaunch, which was done, shall we say, by hand . . .

2008 will be the second season in which Cheers is again sailing the Med. You can look her up at Port St. Louis du Rhône, where there is an ongoing revival of classic multihulls. Check out this You Tube video of the Golden Oldies Regatta, 2007. Cheers raced along with four Newick trimarans and two Derek Kelsall tris.

Here's how the proa looked, racing way back in 1968—Kimball