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Cherub is latest class to join the dinghy sailing revival - get a new boat for under $9k!

by Michael Brown/Yachting NZ 20 May 04:26 BST 20 May 2021
Cherub - Waitemata Harbour - June 2020 © Richard Gladwell /

The John Spencer designed Cherub class, along with several other national and NZ classes is undergoing a serious revival.

Doyle Sails Mike Sanderson, a former America's Cup sailor and Volvo Ocean Race winner sparked the resurrection of the class, which developed many outstanding yacht careers. He talked with Yachting NZ's Michael Brown.

What started for Mike Sanderson as a way to "rip around the harbour" with his son to try to keep him in the sport has seen the revival of the Cherub class in this country.

It's got to the point where production of the 12-foot long planing dinghy is struggling to keep up with demand and plans are afoot to hold the first class national championships since the last in 1990.

Sanderson's 11-year-old son, Merrick, had tried sailing an Optimist and O'pen Skiff but wasn't really enjoying it, which prompted Sanderson to find a boat they could sail together.

He wanted one with a trapeze, so bought a Cherub during lockdown last year - the boat was delivered to the Auckland border and the transaction involved an envelope full of cash - and got to work sprucing up the 1988 model with his son as a lockdown project.

"We did it up in the garage with no expectation of racing," Sanderson explained. "We posted a few videos online and it went gang-busters. I think half of those interested had a kid in a similar situation to mine and the other half had a Cherub story from their youth.

"Suddenly there was a massive hunt on to find old Cherubs in New Zealand. We didn't do that well. It seemed that lots from the late 1980s were sold to Australia so I got Dan Leech to design a new CNC cut plywood kitset boat and it's taken off."

The kitset, which Sanderson said you don't have to be too handy to put together, is backed up by support from the likes of Southern Spars, Ronstan and Doyle Sails, which Sanderson is chief executive of, to keeps costs low. A new Cherub build kit currently sits at about $8500, including sails.

It's difficult to put a price on the quality time many parents are now having with their children, however, and it's a significant factor behind the growth of the fleet. Ten boats competed at the first regatta held earlier this year at Algies Bay and as many as 13 are expected at the next traveller series event in Whangarei next weekend.

It's expected to attract a quality fleet and, along with Sanderson, who is a former Ocean Race winner and World Sailor of the Year, is likely to be Dean Barker, Ray Davies, Adrian Pawson, Chris Marsh and 'Mr Cherub', Alan Roper.

The competitive juices certainly start flowing once the start gun goes off but the style and format of racing places a huge emphasis on fun, with a variety of courses (triangles, windward/leewards and destination races) as well as picnics and Le Mans starts. They've even managed to secure an ice-cream sponsor for their regattas so far.

Sanderson admits any potential newcomers to the class need to be reasonably skilled, especially as they can hit speeds of 20 knots, and it's technical enough to appeal to those who enjoy tinkering with boats in the garage.

Crucially for Sanderson, his son has found a passion for the sport and they've even swapped roles a few times.

"It was his idea to go racing and suddenly it's a cool thing," he said. "We've now done half a dozen days with me on the wire and him driving and it gets a little bit loose at times. I'm about to turn 50 so the injuries could start coming. But it's really cool and he loves it.

"It's not going to detract in any way from the traditional route of Opti, Starling and 29er. When my son is 13, he will have done a couple of seasons on the bow in a Cherub and will probably be six foot so will be pretty handy as a 29er crew. There's more than one road if you want to represent New Zealand and I'm one of those, because I was pretty average in an Opti and P Class.

"Clearly there's a bit of a gap for something like this in New Zealand because it has gone crazy with people trying to get hold of one and go sailing with their kids. They are the coolest little boats."

Anyone interested in learning more about the revitalised Cherub class visit their Facebook page here. or if you are a former or current Cherub sailor click here for the NZ Cherub Sailing Facebook page

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