Groundbreaking boat designer Doug Peterson - whose creations include the much-loved Kiwi classic Black Magic - died on the very day that Team New Zealand won the America's Cup in Bermuda.

The American, who one sailing website described as a "true genius", was 71 and had been battling cancer. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Peterson died on Tuesday (NZ time).

Peterson, from San Diego, moved to New Zealand in 1993, when he and Kiwi legend Laurie Davidson - who turns 90 this year - were head designers of the Black Magic boats for the 1995 regatta in San Diego, when Team New Zealand wrested the trophy from America for the first time.

Doug Peterson's
Doug Peterson's "Black Magic" parked as a tribute to Sir Peter Blake, at the Auckland viaduct's New Zealand Maritime Museum. Photo / Greg Bowker

The New York Times described both men as "self-taught naval architects with past successes designing midsize boats on the grand prix circuit".

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Peterson was an ally of America's Cup icon Dennis Conner, but wasn't hired for the 1995 competition. That led Peterson to join the New Zealand campaign, where he was a key player in defeating Conner's Stars and Stripes in San Diego.

"We basically did it together," Peterson told the NYT, about his partnership with Davidson. "The crew was worried at first because we were agreeing all the time. But we said, 'No, we like this,' and we agreed on a basic narrow shape for the boats."

Peterson worked on three other campaigns, two with Prada and also on Bill Koch's victorious America3 in 1992.

Sailingscuttlebutt described Peterson as having been "America's most accomplished living sailing yacht designer." Their tribute to him is here.