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Responsive Damfino is a classic Newick tri

Jan 1, 2009


From the Morris 36 to mega-W-class beauties, a growing fleet of elegant day sailers with minimal accommodations reflect the resurgence in demand for boats honed to make fun, fast jaunts or quickly reach and explore favorite cruising nooks for a weekend. Typically, though, these boats have reverted to the classic aesthetics of western yachting's past eras. Shedding new light on this field comes the design Spark, realized in the recently built Damfino, from Dick Newick's innovative design board. Newick also values Western traditions. "I've always been a great disciple of L. Francis Herreshoff's writings and designs," he says. He'd owned a Herreshoff kayak early in his career, and even the design for Spark, which Newick calls "a three-hulled Rozinante, a gentleman's day sailor," tracks L. Francis's wake.

If modern multihulls can claim to be classics, Newick has contributed more than his share. His shapely plywood trimarans have remained in charter service since their launchings in the 1960s. His fleet of historic racing machines includes Moxie, with which the late Phil Weld won the 1980 Observer Single-handed Trans-Atlantic Race (OSTAR), and the Atlantic Proa Cheers, a boat form he invented. Newick virtually created the fully sculpted multihull, too, not the easiest to build with nary a straight line in sight, but as organically functional as, and at home with, dolphin and birds of the pelagic realm.

For Newick, getting a boat to feel alive at sea, at ease with wind, wave and pure speed, has always trumped loading it down with what he calls "all the modern inconveniences." Indeed, Damfino, the elegant prototype of the Spark design built by Jim Conlin, lacks not only air conditioning and fridge, but also inboard engine, windlass and even stays. From her demountability for transport, self-tacking sails, big comfy cockpit, and a sturdy, skeg-hung rudder to daggerboard canted forward to reduce tip vortices, Damfino combines practicality with performance optimization.

The 65-year-old Conlin is no snubber of tradition either, but his Alberg 35 had become a bit much for day sailing. Conlin saw in Spark something that didn't require athleticism or difficulty to get underway quickly or to make lots of knots. Like Rozinante, Damfino would prove easy on the eye and across the sea.

Conlin had considered production boats, like the Ian Farrier-designed F-series trimarans, but found Spark's hull shapes and weight less compromised by the folding systems F-boats employ. He used glass and epoxy over Core-Cell foam core, with carbon in the cross-arms (akas) and carbon masts to create a boat less than a ton empty, 3,000 pounds loaded, so Damfino slips along effortlessly.

The main hull is classic Newick, with springy sheer, well-flared bow, and very slim lines. Newick chose to mirror Rozinante's canoe stern, though he prefers employing transoms, but all his boats are very V-d aft and nearly double ended anyway. The amas, or outer hulls, reveal a more notable Newick evolution. His early amas all featured lots of sheer and rocker, with sections sharply V-d and volumes that would float a bit more than the total boat's weight if the ama could be pressed under water. His recent Traveler 48 showed influence from Euro-racers whose amas became as long and straight as pointy-ended cigars and displaced up to twice the boat's weight, but they were honed for power reaching and flying the main hull in winds in the teens. They give a much bouncier ride close reaching and upwind. The Travelers are less extreme, but Damfino devolves further. The amas submerged would still displace a hefty 140 percent of total boat weight to maximize power and keep the akas well above water, but Newick uses almond-shaped sections (points down) and has returned to using significant rocker on the ama bottoms to soften the ride, particularly upwind, and sweeping sheer to keep the ends up. Tiny transoms should not drag water because, by the time they are depressed, the boat will be going quite fast, enough to avoid it.

Damfino can sail up to the wind speed from 2 to 12 knots, and in stiff winds can clock 10 to 13 knots to windward and close reaching the high teens off the wind. As the boat accelerates into the teens through oncoming chop, the windward bow wave can slash off the main hull's flare and get blown back up and to leeward, "giving you the firehose experience" in the cockpit says Conlin, but one must accept that typical cost of speed, and Conlin will soon fit a dodger. Peter Johnstone grew up with performance boats, being part of the Johnstone clan that created J-boats. As principle of Gunboat catamarans, he's also a veteran performance-multihull sailor. After a shakedown spin on Damfino, he concludes: "On a reach, the thing was just magical. It was wet, but as you would expect at that size (and doing 18 knots). It has a comfy cockpit and did everything it was meant to do &mdash a simple, comfortable, fast day sailer for an older guy who's going to be short handed."

Simple sail handling is aided by self-tacking sails on unstayed carbon sticks. Newick developed his cat-yawl rig starting with an earlier 36 footer White Wings. Damfino's 35-pound mizzen is a rather conventional full-battened sail with wishbone boom, which helps control twist when using a sheet to the centerline. The 130-pound mainmast supports a modified Lungstrom rig, first developed in the 1930s, with double-panel mainsail set on sail tracks. Sailing downwind, one can open the mainsail to fly its port and starboard panels wing and wing. Conlin can stretch the windward panel out and forward as he bears off, allowing the crew to tack downwind, a preferred tactic for speed and comfort, even for quite modest performers, but one Newick thinks would be enhanced using a whisker pole. High-molecular-weight plastic mast bearings allow the crew to easily rotate the mast to reef, even in heavy airs, but as the sail rolls, it does shift the center of effort well forward, making the mizzen essential to maintain balance. A mizzen staysail, which can be turned upside down to form a jib on the foremast, would increase horsepower even more, especially in very light airs, but Conlin finds the boat's performance quite adequate without them.

Like all prototypes, Damfino has had to face her compromises and teething aches. He's had to tune the stiffness of the vertical carbon battens on the main. Cutting and setting sails to accept what can become several feet of bend in the unstayed mast also is an art. Conlin acknowledges that you really don't want to be caught having to short tack out a channel, because the boat needs to get up to speed to come around. The flat mizzen can help stall a tack by pushing the boat back into the wind, so Conlin has learned to sometimes ease it off. The amas also sit 2 inches lower than designed, says Conlin. On a racing machine, if the boat could remain perfectly balanced at rest, the amas would both hover well above the water. In reality, the racer leans over on one side, then flops over as the boat sways about, a discomfort for cruisers but essential when tacking an extremely wide boat so that it doesn't have to drag its long leeward ama around in a big arc before the ama lifts and allows the boat to come off on the new board. Damfino's amas steady her at anchor, but Conlin plans to raise them on future boats to aid tacking.

As for cruising, some sailors will always wince at the paucity of staterooms in this 28-footer, but even on his smallest designs, Newick always has supplied the essentials to an offshore crew &mdash a secure and generous berth, place to navigate and galley space. Damfino features a big double berth and enough counter space for a small cooker and compact nav station, which these days may require not much more than a GPS. Conlin plans little cruising, but Johnstone concludes, "I could see cruising that boat in the Exumas for a month or two, no problem," a trip enhanced by the boat's minimal working draft of 2 feet (depth of rudder; board up). He adds, "The boat has a lot of room below," and though that may be a relative measure, Newick echoes quite a rational cruising brief: "I could spend summers on that boat alone or take Pat (his wife) on weekend cruises."

Newick would not hesitate to take the boat offshore to Bermuda, either. Although small for such purpose, Damfino is a powerful successor to Newick's famous 31-foot Val trimarans, which are not much bigger and have sailed across oceans many times, including one placing second in the storm-ridden 1976 OSTAR, finishing right behind a maxi-racer (and penalized 236-foot schooner). There's good reason Newick was inducted into the North American Boat Designers Hall of Fame, and Damfino is sure to spark continued interest in all his boats.

Steve Callahan is a sailor, naval architect and author of the book Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea, which tells the tale of his struggle for survival after his boat sank in the Atlantic. He is also co-author of Capsized.

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