In 1951 New Zealand naval architect John Spencer designed a 12 foot dinghy for his friend Ray Early to
sail on Auckland Harbour in New Zealand. The boat was built to race in the Pennant Class and was
named Cherub. Two stories exist on the origins of the name Cherub. One is that when asked what the
new boat was, Ray Early’s wife said, “I don't know, but she's a perfect little cherub to Sail”. The second,
more credible story is that Ray Early often referred to his daughter as “Cherub”.
Cherub was an immediate success in Pennant Class racing, leading other local sailors to call on Spencer
for designs for similar boats and within a short space of time a number of Cherubs were built. Cherub
numbers grew quickly in New Zealand in the 1950s, with around 450 boats being registered in the first
eight years. This was due in part to what was effectively a partnership between the New Zealand
yachting magazine Sea Spray and John Spencer. Sea Spray allowed Spencer almost as much space as he
wanted to provide publicity and 'how to'; construction articles. For a time Sea Spray was the official
Cherub HQ, keeping the sail number register, and being the central point for all correspondence.
The Class was introduced to the United Kingdom in the 1956 when boats were built by McCutcheon's of
Cowes. By 1963 there were 112 Cherubs registered in the UK.
In Australia, the first fleet of Cherub emerged at Mounts Bay Sailing Club in Perth. At the time, Mounts
Bay was sailing 16ft Skiffs and Sharpies and was looking for a class to suit younger teenage sailors who
were too big for Pelicans, but not big enough to go into the four man 16ft Skiffs and three man Sharpies.
There were some potential designs sailing on the Swan River, including 12ft Cadets, Gwen 12s and V-
Jays, all of which did not quite meet Mounts Bay’s needs. One club member, Basil Wright, decided he
would look for a more up-to-date and modern style boat to introduce at the club. Basil met John
Spencer through his business contacts and discovered the Cherub. Basil Wright got together six Mounts
Bay sailors, all of who had sons aged within a year of each other. The group decided they would
commission six boats to be launched and raced as a class in the 1960-61 season. The six boats were
built and the first four launched within a few days of each other.
At a similar time to the emergence of the Cherub class at Mounts Bay, Frank Bethwaite emigrated from
New Zealand to Australia and settled in Sydney. Bethwaite, a keen sailor, brought with him his New
Zealand built Cherub, Marie, which be began sailing at Northbridge Sailing Club.
Cherub numbers grew across Australia in the early 1960s. Percy Fraser, the Commodore of the
Newhaven Yacht Squadron was an enthusiastic promoter of the class and with Basil Wright was
instrumental in organising the first Cherub Australian National Championships which were held at
Newhaven in the 1964-65 season. The Cherub National Council of Australia was formed to manage the
class and its racing in Australia.
The first Cherub National Championships were won by Basil Wright’s son Gordon, sailing with Garry
Bisdee. The Australian National Championship series has been sailed each year since with the 50th
Anniversary series being held at Belmont 16ft Sailing Club in 2012-13. In the pages below you can see
the results and read reports on many of the National Championship regattas.