Darren Newton: the Millbrook guru

Create a notification for "Catamaran"

At the magazine, there is no lack of followers, even at the highest level. Moreover, it was the chief editor who slipped me his name. Discreetly. Whispered in my ear. Just as you share a sure tip for the 5.30 at Vincennes. "For your next portrait, you should go and see Darren Newton." "Who?" I heard myself answer naively, thus renewing for the next few months my position as 'the new boy', who is not yet initiated into all the rites of the Multihull sect!   

Is it just that his office is small? No, it's he who is big, we note immediately as he unfurls his one metre ninety and his build of a third row rugby forward. With his juvenile face and teenage appearance, he could still play in a university team without shocking anyone, if he didn't openly admit to being 40 + VAT (VAT at 9.8%!). The welcome is warm, his voice low, reassuring and calm. You can easily imagine chatting about your latest cruises with him over a few pints, leaning on the counter of the 'Devon and Cornwall Inn', THE pub in Millbrook.

Darren is an artist, a real one. One of those people who are not familiar with the word 'compromise', and only accomplish things to perfection. A pure product of the 'British School'. There is nothing academic in this image. He admits with a smile to having sailed more often than he went to secondary school! No it is rather a rigour, a completely Anglo-Saxon simplicity, a determined commitment in everything he undertakes. Darren is to multihulls what Bruce McLaren is to cars. A demanding craftsman, aiming for excellence in every construction. With him there is no question of beating about the bush. At a boat show, if you insist on obtaining some equipment he doesn't judge to be essential, or you skimp on the budget necessary in his eyes to accomplish his work, he will take you by the hand and lead you to the stand next door, which is less...concerned! However, he admits that the hardest thing in this profession is knowing how to say 'no'. He prefers to ask the question directly: "why destroy your boat, with heating, a washing machine or a generator? Because in multihulls more than elsewhere, weight is everything. And the proportions as well," he insists, drawing his hands apart as if by magic to lengthen all the multihulls in the world.

But at first, Darren followed an atypical path. If he had been a jazz saxophonist he would without a doubt have regretted not living in New Orleans in the 30s. But Darren is above all a sailor, and he was lucky enough to spend the 80s in the south of England, where the story of British multihulls was being written before his very eyes. So, after having caught the bug on a Hobie 16, in Portugal, he built his first boat at 14, as part of a school workshop. Three years later, 'Daz' (Darren) went cruising to Norway. His father presented him to Kent Stevens and Ian Fraser. But it was without the slightest doubt a double dose of love at first sight which decided his future. Two superb trimarans, which he literally fell in love with: Paragon (Adrian Thompson) and Apricot (Nigel Irens). In 1986, he had the opportunity to sail aboard the latter. After that, the crew couldn't get rid of him! His contemporaries, Rob Feloy or Nigel Irens, inspired both admiration and the creative desire in him. He spent hours with the former, exchanging views on the designs in fashion at the time, the philosophy which had guided the various choices. This was to be Darren's second profession: naval architect. He soon collected a third hat, that of builder. There are not many like him in the nautical industry, who have three strings to their bow, and this makes his approach and his tenacity really admirable.

After a first model, he launched into the construction of a Formula 28, to take part in the championship of the same name. His first sponsor was a real institution on the other side of the channel, with worldwide success: Clarke's Shoes. The budget was tight, so he lived a bit haphazardly, but above all daydreamed when for example, during an event, he came across the 60-footer Groupe Pierre 1er, with the decoration immortalised by the victory of Florence Arthaud in the 1990 Route du Rhum. Was it from these encounters that his first design was born? A boat with lots of curves and fine strokes, very 'cosmic', in his own terms. Meanwhile, he built a new boat for Bob Beggs, who had returned from two Atlantic crossings on a Tiki, the mythical Wharram design, and even better, accompanied his hero, Andrew Roberts, on a transat in a 60-footer: the grail!

After having created Dazcat in 1988, he rented his first boatyard in 1992, for 50 pounds a week. And why set up anywhere else but Millbank, where his 'spiritual father' Pat Patterson had created Multihull Centre, in 1968? He first produced Lady Bounty. The most beautiful of his creations, according to him. Built for the person he considers to be the most intelligent man in the world, Dr. Thomas Bligh (President of the Cambridge University Engineering Department); I don't think that today he would change a single line of this 14-metre catamaran. Light and fast, it pursued elegance as far as calling for glorious weather conditions for its launch. He admits that it is particularly hard to reconcile multihulls and aesthetics. Another reason for only building his own designs.  Impossible Dream followed, in 2002. An 18-metre catamaran inevitable with no compromises concerning speed, but designed to be able to be sailed round the world by a singlehander in a wheelchair. His only regret remains having stopped studying too soon. He lacks the theoretical foundations, but compensates through brilliant intuition and surrounding himself with high-flying technicians, such as Roger Scammell.

Multimarine, a more eclectic boatyard, was created, to try and smooth out the effects of peaks and troughs. Simon Baker joined the adventure, followed by various partners. A tightly-knit team, nowadays made up of about thirty very talented people. And if Darren is proud of one thing, it is having brought them together and got them working as a team. Individuality has been put to one side, in favour of the collective 'us'. They have produced nearly 30 multihulls, at the rate of one or two per year, no more. Always at the top of the market, and fast. A word which according to Darren has been overused by admen, who use it at every possible opportunity: "But fast compared to what?" He pretends to lose his temper in the only trace of irritation with the laws of the market. He wants to be proud of what he produces. In a symbiotic relationship between sailing, construction and design, where the owners become friends, then join a real family. Owners who are often experienced, but always open. The royalties from the orders finance more personal projects.

He wouldn't exchange his life next to the sea, at Millbrook, for all the world. This nest of artistic talent is a source of so much inspiration, a place where he can devote himself to his other passions, surfing, walking and motorcycling (a KTM enthusiast, he designed and built his own machine), which get him out of the microcosm of the nautical industry. He likes peoples' kindness and simplicity.  Like Marc van Peteghem, he predicts a return to the origins, and meanwhile makes every effort to simplify his designs as much as possible. He recognises himself in the work and philosophy of James Wharram: "why complicate life?"

Share this article