Deben Cherubs are alive and well 50 years on . . .

Everson’s yard on the River Deben, Suffolk produced one of the first series production yachts on the English East Coast, the 21ft. ‘Cherub’ Class, of which 18 were built between 1924 and 1937. On 25 October, 2019, Deben Cherub ‘Ariel’ was relaunched at The Woodbridge Boatyard, Everson’s Wharf, the owner being Tim Everson, great-grandson of The Woodbridge Boatyard’s founder, Alfred A  Everson.

Boatbuilding at the Everson yard in Woodbridge, Suffolk on the English east coast began in 1889.  As well as building boats and running the yard, Alfred Everson was the official Starter and Timekeeper for the Deben Yacht Club, 1889 – 1933, starting many races from the end of the old jetty with a 12 bore shotgun and (usually) blank cartridges. When his sons, Cyril and Bert, joined him, they became Everson & Sons Ltd. as the yard was called until 2010. 

The current boatshed is believed to date from  1912, presumably after the original structure burnt down, since it became known as ‘Phoenix Works’. Indeed some of the charred timbers are visible in the supporting structure. The reconstruction involved materials from a number of sources including ships spars and telegraph poles. Although a ‘temporary’ structure, it has somehow survived two world wars and the 1987 hurricane.

Built between 1924 and 1937 by Everson & Sons of Woodbridge, the Deben Cherub has come to represent the yard for many. Strong, affordable and appealing to families they were constructed from oak and Canadian rock elm with planking of larch or pitch pine, everything fastened with copper. The classically East Coast gaff-rigged cruiser-racer is ideally suited to the confines of river and estuary sailing and became a model for many pocket cruisers to follow. 

Now, half a century since the Cherubs were last seen in large numbers, racing from the Deben Yacht Club under the starter’s 12 bore shotgun fired by Alfred Everson, they are regaining momentum on the River Deben. Everson & Sons, which in 2010 was renamed The Woodbridge Boatyard, is once again home to a flock (or is it a chorus) of Cherubs and it is hoped that the once hotly contested Cherub Cup will soon become a regular fixture again.

In April 2019, The Woodbridge Boatyard was acquired by Mr. Eric Reynolds and since then has been a hive of activity. With the restoration of the 107-year-old ‘Phoenix Shed’ and improvements made to the other workshop facilities, The Woodbridge Boatyard has been attracting new customers, particularly those with classic boats in need of traditional skills including a former RN Fairey Huntress, a varnished Swedish cruiser designed by Ole Enderlein, a 1930s Chris Craft and, until her launch, ‘Ariel’, one of the Deben Cherubs.

‘Ariel’ underwent renovation of her topsides in 2019 with much of the work being carried out and overseen by Tim Everson, her owner and great grandson of the yard’s founder. With her old caulking raked out, handmade larch splines shaped to go between each plank and fresh oakum caulking in place, she has been repainted and was launched to sit alongside her sisters, ‘Cherub’, after whom the rest of the class are named, ‘Rohaise II’, ‘Lynette’ and ‘Fortuna’. 

‘Ariel’ launch following restoration, 2019 Photo: Claudia Myatt

‘Sea Pig’, another Deben Cherub, recently moved from Heybridge, Essex, to Devon for restoration with plans to sail back to the Deben upon her completion and ‘Jubilee’ is known to be upriver in nearby Melton.

The Woodbridge Boatyard are keen to learn the whereabouts of as many of the Everson & Sons-built boats as possible to safeguard the history of the yard and continue rebuilding the fleet.

Woodbridge Boatyard (formerly Eversons)