Cherubini 44 Mark II: Rhapsody in Blue
The recent launch of Elysium, an exquisite ketch-rigged Cherubini 44 Mark II, promises new life for one family of longtime sailors and another family of old-school boatbuilders. "Yachtstyle" from our October 2008 issue
The End of Everything
Any adult who's grown and evolved and taken on daunting responsibilities probably knows what it's like to experience a clarifying epiphany along the way. Dave Cherubini does. His epiphany came in October 2003. In a Dumpster.
The storied legacy of the Cherubini brothers-the generation of Dave's father and uncles-has been amply told in other places. (Visit www.cherubiniyachts.com to read a good selection.) In brief, John Cherubini's design credits include the early Hunters from 25 to 54 feet; Hunter's Child, the ultra-light-displacement boat aboard which Warren Luhrs won the monohull class in the 1984 OSTAR race; the Mainship 34 trawler; and a host of other successful production and one-off boats. Racing cars fascinated John, and he spent the 1960s designing aircraft for Boeing. In each of these media, he had an uncanny knack for translating his imagination onto the page. When it came to boats, his brother, Frit, had the uncanny knack for translating John's drawings into three-dimensional wood and metal and fiberglass. From the mid-1970s and all through the 1980s, the Cherubini Boat Company flourished, earning praise from sailors and critics and training the next generation of Cherubini cousins.
But in 1990, with Frit having retired and John having died seven years earlier, the company foundered, a victim of the federal luxury tax that decimated American boatbuilding. In its place, beginning in the mid-1990s, the Independence Cherubini Company-founded by Frit's son, Lee, and a partner-built trawlers and the occasional sailboat. (See "Old-World Innovation," February 2001.) For several years, Independence employed other members of the Cherubini clan, including Dave for a time.
By 2003, that company, too, was nearing its end, and all the Cherubinis had moved on to other things. Meanwhile, Dave was at work restoring boats and pianos at a small shop he kept on the Delaware River. But he still had his own boat stored at the Independence yard. Sometime that fall he noticed that Independence had gone quiet-too quiet.
"This isn't good," he said to himself. So he hired a hauler to help retrieve his boat before it got tangled in bankruptcy or receivership disputes. There, on that October day, he went looking for a bit of cribbing or blocking to help with the move. And that's when Dave Cherubini came to the big junction buoy in his life. The two channels it separated could hardly have diverged more.
"I went to the Dumpster," Dave says, "and I saw templates, old templates of things. Of the 44 and the 48. Cockpit-coaming shapes and caprail shapes and things, you know, that we made as kids."
He describes how he felt at that moment: "It broke my heart. I'm just standing there thinking this is the end-of everything my family had done in America. Everything that everybody lived and died for is getting ready to be hauled away and tossed in a landfill. Just because it was a bad marriage of business. And economy. And circumstances."
Cherubini saved the templates, but he didn't decide then and there to revive the family business. He wasn't ready for that. Still, people starting goading him to do something about it. "See that place over there?" one friend said. "Only you could put that back together."
"That's ridiculous," he'd say. "I could never do that. The whole corporation couldn't do it."
But one thing led to another. When the folks at the Independence Cherubini Company stopped returning calls, the more persistent suitors found Dave. One of them was Chris O'Flinn. He wanted to buy White Hawk, the first Cherubini 44, from her original owner-but only if he could hire a Cherubini to restore her. Next came a call from Rob Turkewitz, in South Carolina, asking whether Dave knew anything about another 44 called First Light.
"This can't be happening!" Dave remembers thinking. "It was like God with his big golden mallet was slapping me in the head, saying, 'You've got to do this.'"
By January 2004-with a whole lot of help from family and friends-he'd done it. He'd filed his business name with New Jersey's secretary of state. Negotiated the purchase of the yard. Sorted out the insurance. Created an accurate, trackable business plan. Hired a company to work through environmental issues. Purchased rights to build a 20-foot Eric Sponberg runabout. And secured a couple of contracts to restore a pair of the 44s his family had created.
And so begins the next chapter of Cherubini boatbuilding in America.