To be successful in the business of building boats, it is vital to have an integrated marriage of craftsmanship (the skill to create boats that offer value and satisfy customer demand), business management skill (to balance growth with conservative responsibility), and marketing prowess (to understand what people want in a new boat and getting them interested in your boat). When boat builders fail, it is sometimes because they lack at least one of these key ingredients. The failure can also result from economic conditions that drive the industry forward and backward (not to mention idiotic political agendas such as the luxury tax.)
It is no surprise that a number of boat companies have come and gone during the last thirty years. It’s certainly a shame for the industry, but perhaps from another perspective, we are seeing evolution at work—survival of the fittest.
Since we’re talking about evolution, let’s not forget another significant theory that resulted from the journeys of HMSBeagle. The theory states that wonderful things can happen when two or more random elements come together, often by chance, to form a new entity that is better, stronger, and capable of much more than simple survival.
Thus we begin the story of the Independence Cherubini Company of Delran, New Jersey. It is a classic tale of two strong boating concerns coming together to build a semi-custom boat that is new, offers good value, and is different.
Element One - Geoffrey White
With a background in the industry that goes back to the late 1970s, Geoffrey White is well-known as one-time owner of Hans Christian Yachts. If you were ever interested in cruising sailboats over the years, you couldn’t possibly have missed the enormously romantic sailboats built by the Hans Christian company.
Ranging in sizes from 33–48 feet, these Far East-built boats dripped traditional appeal—heavy teak caprails and trim, wide teak decks, massive sail rigging with oiled teak blocks, and comfortable (if slow) hulls. And the interiors, well, let’s just say they were a study in teak joinerwork. These boats fulfilled the fantasies of romantic sailors everywhere, and many boats went on to complete glorious circumnavigations. All told, Geoffrey built around 900 Hans Christian sailboats.
In the early ‘80s, Geoffrey decided there was a market for a trawler to complement his current production, so he searched for a suitable boat that could be offered alongside the sailing Hans Christians.
He eventually found a Jim Backus design, originally known as the Positive 42, that fit his concept and trawler requirements. After a redesign update by Gary Grant (of Performance Design in Seattle) that stretched the boat to 45 feet, Geoffrey launched the first Hans Christian 45 in 1985. During the next four years, he built a total of eighteen boats. In 1992, Geoffrey sold his interest in Hans Christian Yachts.
The next several years witnessed a series of events which resulted in Geoffrey White retaining ownership of the 45-foot semi-displacement hull and deck molds. Despite the fact that these molds were still physically located in the Far East, he decided to move ahead and build the boat once again, now calling it the Independence 45. This time around he wanted to built the boat in the U.S.
Geoffrey had a clear vision of what he wanted, he had plenty of experience marketing solid boats, and he now owned the design and fiberglass molds. He had everything, it would seem, except a yacht builder to actually build the boat. A builder who knew how to build quality yachts, putting quality and customer satisfaction ahead of quick rewards.
So his search began…
Element Two - Cherubini Boat Company
Delran, New Jersey, lies across the Delaware River from Philadelphia’s northern suburbs, about 60 miles upriver from Delaware Bay. Located there are some small but serious boat builders still contributing to the state’s historically strong boat building industry. (Most people recognize the ocean side of the state as the heart of New Jersey boat building, and many production boats have come out of Atlantic-shore yards—Ocean, Viking, Egg Harbor, Post, Silverton, Henriques, Jersey Yachts…it’s a long list.
Things on the Delaware side are quieter, less production-oriented. The mentality is on custom, hand-crafted work by artisans, building boats one at a time with an experienced workforce.
Cherubini Boat Company, situated on the shores of the Delaware River, is such a builder, well-known for their Cherubini 44 and 48 ketch and schooner. These sailboats are known as fine cruising boats, traditional in all ways—except that instead of lavish teak interiors, they have the more traditional East Coast flavor of light-colored bulkheads and cabinetry, with varnished mahogany or other hardwood trim.
Today, you’ll find four generations of Cherubinis in the yard most days. Third generation Lee Cherubini manages the company, with an experienced eye for perfection that he learned from his father, and hopes to pass on to his own sons.
Unlike many other yards, Cherubini was able to hang on during the rough economic times that plagued us while the luxury tax existed as a statement of bureaucratic stupidity. (How do I really feel about the luxury tax? The number of people hurt by these misguided politicians is staggering—those in the industry, of course, but also everyone supporting the industry, directly and indirectly. The collective chain of pain reached into a lot of lives and families.)
By judiciously managing repair and renovation projects that came along, Lee hoped to keep his crew and yard together while they waited for new boat orders to make their eventual return.
With the repeal of the luxury tax, and the positive economic attitude of the boating public that followed, people started ordering new boats, but things were different this time—things had changed. People were looking for trawlers, not sailboats, preferring a comfortable motor vessel that could take them safely and comfortably wherever they chose. The romance hadn’t gone away, but now it was tempered with a need for comfort, economy, and accommodation.
Feeling the winds of change, Lee Cherubini and his crew saw the need to adapt their art to meet this change. Sure, the occasional sailboat order would still come in, but it was clear to all three generations of Cherubinis that the custom yacht building market was headed towards trawlers and cruising motorboats—not sailboats.
This left them wondering about what kind of boat would suit them best, and what unique design would satisfy their business and artistic talents.
The stage was set, the players were ready.
Timing is everything, and the circumstance that brought these two elements together was informal, but indeed well-timed. Having known each other casually for a number of years, Geoffrey White and Lee Cherubini hit it off when they began discussing the viability of having Geoffrey’s Independence 45 built by the Cherubini Boat Company. Production quality and quantity projections fit both sides of the team equation—and the ability to offer production hulls with custom interiors was immensely attractive. The project came together as both men walked a similar path.
Hull #1 of the new Independence 45a was launched in 1995. Actually number 19 of the series, it was number one for the Independence/Cherubini partnership—hence the new model designation.
We visited Geoffrey and Lee at the Cherubini yard to tour a boat under construction. What I found interesting from the outset was that while the boat is a production boat of sorts, each boat is really very custom—to fit the needs and tastes of her owners. This is no ordinary production line, and everyone involved likes it that way.
“We build custom boats…no two boats are the same. The hulls and decks may come out of the same molds, but they become completely different boats,” Lee explained. The ability to create a custom interior, layout, engine configuration, staterooms, you name it, makes a great deal of sense to Lee.
“What’s the value of working closely with the owners?You give them exactly what they want, so as a result, we build unique boats. Even little details make a difference, like making shelves in the galley that fit the owners’ specific plates, cups, and utensils. These really add value to the owners.”
While there may still be the occasional order for a new sailboat, this partnership sees the trawler market as where they want to be, and they hope to expand production just to the level where it makes sense. Cherubini currently has capacity to build three 45-footers per year, but the yard’s plans for expansion will allow them to build five or six per year—a reasonable goal.
With a dedicated work force of 15 men and women, Cherubini and Geoffrey White see themselves fitting well within the growing need for custom trawlers.
“The market is right for growth, as long as we stay close to the basic ideas of building high quality boats with a close relationship with the customer,” Geoffrey explained. With that in mind, all planned facility expansion will be conservative, more to improve the working environment for each boat than to simply crank out more boats.
But there is another reason the Independence Cherubini Co. needs to add working space—they have a 49-foot design soon to start construction. Next in a series of vessels that promises to take the basic I45a profile up to 75–80 feet, the new I49 takes advantage of customer input, stretching the boat out. This new boat adds yet another choice for people looking for a competent semi-displacement cruising boat with an enclosed pilothouse.
But all talk of the much-bigger boats is off in the future, and both Geoffrey White and Lee Cherubini know their dedication must focus on the I45a and I49 for some time to come. The immediate goals are not about getting bigger, but rather on achieving what craftsmen always strive for. Lee summed up this sentiment for us.
“To do the same job, or better, in less time…that is the goal.”
Let’s go aboard.
Your initial impression of this boat really depends on the angle from which you first see the I45. Honestly, some boats are like that—seen from the side you develop one assessment of the boat, while viewing it from the bow leaves quite a different impression. If you don’t see what I mean, notice it next time you go down to the docks. Some trawlers have a certain image from all angles, while other boats take on different personalities when seen from the bow or stern quarter. I’m not sure why that is the case, but it certainly is true for the I45a.
The straight-on look is that of a serious North Sea pilot boat, ready to take on the roughest sea. The slightly angled-in sides of the pilothouse give it almost a bulletproof appearance. Real serious and purposeful.
Yet, as you walk around the boat, it takes on a more casual image, and from the stern, the boat looks warm, roomy, and comfortable. Perhaps this multiple personality look was intentional…I found it difficult to determine the best photographic angle.
The I45a is a semi-displacement boat, displacing 36,500 lbs. The design is for a comfortable coastal cruising boat. Despite its rugged forward appearance, the hull is not intended to blast around Cape Horn, and besides, the boat does not have the range to cross oceans.
But by no means does this make it a wimp—Lee Cherubini correctly reminded me that coastal cruising can be very serious indeed, and he feels strongly that all boats should be able to take rough weather no matter where they go. He is right, of course.
The hull is solid fiberglass below the waterline, with a fiberglass/balsa core sandwich above the waterline. The deck is also balsa cored, with added fiberglass layers in major stress points. A long full keel runs down the length of the hull, and, at least in single engine boats, the rudder is attached to the keel via a strong shoe, firmly supported for superior protection.
Hull #20 has a dark blue hull, with white topsides, and a total lack of exterior brightwork. The modern finish will be a cinch to keep clean and polished. The rails and stanchions are all custom welded aluminum, and provide 35–36 inches of protection around the deck and boat deck. Bulwarks up forward are 30 inches high, offering a secure feeling that cannot be duplicated with simple railings and stanchions.
Since the saloon uses the full beam of the boat, there are no side decks in the traditional sense, and entry onto the boat is through a transom door off the swim platform, or via port and starboard gates just outboard the sliding pilothouse doors. The vertical difference in access through these entry points should be a blessing when cruising—where the tide and/or dock requires stepping up or jumping down from the boat.
Side decks start at the pilothouse doors, and are 22–24 inches wide, allowing you to walk directly up to the boat deck (with steps molded into the deck), or down a few steps to go up to the bow. I don’t think docking should be any problem, despite the inability to walk directly from the bow to the stern without going through the interior. (I often ask owners of boats with full-beam saloons if this is a worthy trade-off. Even in boats like the hefty Krogen Whaleback, the feeling is that it is not a big deal once the crew learns how to handle docklines, springlines, and the other aspects of slip management.You just get used to it.)
The aft deck is five feet long, with 6'4" of headroom under the overhead boat deck. With the wide transom door, there is enough room for a couple of people to sit and enjoy the scenery at anchor, or for organizing diving gear while exploring a nearby reef. As with many of the modern trawlers, the aft deck is really a civilized back porch. There are locker/seats on both sides of the aft deck, the port locker holds two 20-lb. propane tanks for the galley stove. The boat we toured also had an aft control station mounted in a cabinet with a sink and shower head.
Across from the pilothouse doors (all doors and windows are Diamond/Sea-Glaze of British Columbia), side deck access up to the boat deck is easy and safe. While there is also an aluminum ladder for getting up to the boat deck from the aft deck, it is much more convenient to walk up to the deck while holding on to a sturdy handrail.
The cambered boat deck measures approximately 13 feet long by 12 feet wide, more than enough for a good-sized dinghy. A fold-down mast holds the various antennas and radar reflector, and the top of the pilothouse is a good place to mount the radar unit. The safe and easy access to this boat deck means that, once the dinghy is launched, it will be a perfect location to watch the Navy’s Blue Angels perform during Opening Day ceremonies, or serve lunch on those splendid days when you can’t imagine being anywhere else.
There is a 27" by 69" dutch door for entry into the saloon, and once inside, you immediately see the custom interior created by the Cherubini yard for this particular boat. I’ve been on three I45s and each one has been very different.
This particular interior is finished in an ivory-colored laminate with varnished mahogany trim. The combination of this light color scheme and the large opening windows make for an especially bright and cheery interior—definitely a happy boat, if you know what I mean. (The next boat is being finished with an all-teak interior, which will no doubt have a completely different look and feel.)
A solid teak and holly sole adds to the overall yacht finish. Unlike a thin veneer or glued laminate, this solid lumber is incredibly expensive, but offers excellent non-skid characteristics, as well as being one of the trademarks of a yacht.
The saloon measures 12 feet long by the 14.5-foot beam, indeed a wide and open interior for a 45-foot boat. An L-shaped settee with adjustable table is located on the port side of the cabin, and there are large opening windows all ‘round the saloon. When at anchor, ventilation through the boat should be excellent with any sort of breeze, not to mention the impressive visibility. (Show this saloon to someone with a sailboat, and they might just see the light, literally.) Wood venetian blinds provide total privacy when it’s time to shut out the world, so the only real negative of so much window area is that you lose wall space for hanging a moose head or shelves for your collection of golf trophies.
I especially liked the treatment of the overhead throughout the boat—very classy in an understated way. Similar to the sailboat interiors Cherubini is known for, it is comprised of painted, grooved panels screwed into overhead frames. With its satin finish, it should be easy to keep clean, as well as diffusing reflected light to further brighten the interior. I really liked the look.
Due to the camber of the boat deck, headroom in the saloon and galley is between 6'6" and 6'9". Headroom in the staterooms and heads is a minimum of 6'4".
The galley on this boat is very much a part of the saloon layout, as it isn’t hidden behind cabinetry hung from the overhead. A wide counter suggests meal preparation is part of the social activities. A double sink faces out, with an opening port just above. To the right of the sink is a GE microwave, mounted over the three-burner propane stove and oven.
A 110VAC/12VDC refrigerator freezer stands more or less on the centerline of the boat, and Cherubini faced the refrigerator doors with varnished mahogany panels that match the rest of the interior. Nice touch.
The U-shape is the traditional galley arrangement, and there is just enough space (with drawers, lockers, and bins) to hold provisions and galley utensils for long-term cruising. Unlike some other trawlers that hold enough provisions for ten people living aboard full-time during a three-year voyage, there didn’t seem to be an overabundance of usable storage space, which I think will translate into having onboard what you really need or want for the trip. After all, this is a coastal cruising boat, and since when is there a problem getting ketchup, lettuce, or spareribs along most waterways? In many boats, we almost feel obligated to stuff every locker with things that don’t get used, and/or could be easily obtained along the way. The I45 takes a very realistic approach to provisioning.
A 24-inch wide passageway leads down from the galley into the staterooms and heads. On the port side of the passageway, opening a sliding pocket door reveals a guest stateroom with opposing single bunks (both over 6'6" long), separated by a chest of drawers.
Above this bureau is a large mirror that extends up to the overhead, cleverly concealing a hanging locker space from the mirror out to the hull. With 16 inches of hanging space, as well as the bureau drawers, guests can store their clothes without having to live out of luggage. Each bunk has an opening port for ventilation.
Across from this stateroom is a guest and day head compartment—complete with tile-lined shower stall with curved teak seat. There is a Sealand Vacuflush toilet on the right of a long vanity. This is a big head compartment, and the two opening ports help keep the head bright and fresh.
Farther forward in the passageway is the master stateroom, which is also finished in light laminate and mahogany trim. With two overhead hatches, two deck prisms, and three opening ports, the master cabin is cheerful and inviting, especially on a sunny day. Unlike other boat’s staterooms that are dark and closed in, this is an inviting place to spend quiet time with privacy. Let me tell you, if you can’t find me on this boat, chances are I’ll be holed up in this cabin, stretched out reading a book—along with my Golden Retriever, Boomer. On most boats, I’d only go up there to sleep.
The master head has its own opening port, and this compartment has a Vacuflush toilet, an enclosed shower stall, and enough storage for toiletries, towels, and linens. Like the rest of the interior, the finish is traditional and contemporary.
Going back aft along the passageway to the galley, you find that the set of steps up to the saloon is actually a hinged unit that swings up to provide access into the engine compartment, which is located under the saloon. A set of four dampened floor access hatches in the saloon floor also open up for even more access to the engines, genset, water heater, and supporting equipment.
The overall engine room space is plenty big enough to check fluids and check for leaks and such, but it isn’t a true engine room in the sense that you actually go into the space and walk around. With only 36 inches of headroom, it is strictly a crawl and wiggle affair—which is why the opening floor hatches make so much sense. They are easy to open up, thanks to the dampened hinge action, and turn the engine room into a veritable palace with 9'9" of headroom! Just be sure you don’t decide to perform machinery maintenance when the saloon is filled with visiting friends…
Hull #20 has twin 6-cylinder Cummins diesels rated at 250 horsepower each. With such power, the boat can really get on a plane and boogie. This also translates into a high fuel burn rate, easily monitored on the two FloScan gauges—which was enough to make me want to slow down.
Geoffrey White told us about half the owners opt for twin engines instead of the standard single diesel. As you would expect in a custom boat, there are many options when it comes to power, and they have experience with Cats, Luggers, Lehmans, as well as Cummins.
A few steps up from the saloon brings you to the I45’s command center—an enclosed pilothouse. I just love pilothouses, but it is a fact that there are very few production semi-displacement trawlers being built today with an enclosed pilothouse. Builders offer one or the other, but not both.
I suppose this has to do with the fact that a pilothouse is generally associated with long passages, where overnight watches are a regular activity. Since most semi-displacement boats tend not to make nonstop, around-the-clock, multiple-day passages, the need for such a helm station isn’t strictly mandatory.
The I45 pilothouse is cozy, as the sloping sides of the pilothouse visually brings the space together. The large windows allow terrific visibility on all sides, and the rear windows open for ventilation while under way. Two large opening hatches on the pilothouse roof bring in even more light, and the resulting breeze should eliminate the need for running air conditioning in many warm cruising areas.
The boat we toured had engine controls for both engines, twin FloScan monitors, controls for the Wesmar bow thruster, and a 30-inch destroyer-type wheel mounted just in front of a Todd helm chair. Behind the helm is a long settee (over 6 feet) with a fixed table (with two swing-up leaves for flexibility of use). Headroom is 6'5"–6'8" in the pilothouse.
Overall, I can sum up my impression of the I45’s pilothouse as being more of a cockpit than a ship’s bridge. Everything is within easy reach, and the visibility is outstanding in all directions just by turning your head. I just can’t see myself pacing around this bridge late at night smoking a pipe poring over the chart—rather I’d be strapped in to the helm chair, looking for bogies on the radar screen. Is that really a helm chair or an ejection seat?
Either way, the layout works…
We got a chance to run the boat in the Delaware Bay, and there were no surprises. Proceeding at slower speed, the I45 tracks well enough. Harder chines aft keep the boat stable at this speed, despite a windy day with nasty chop in the river.
Increasing the revs in both engines brought the boat up on a plane easily, and in no time we were cruising along at 17 knots, without excessive spray or difficulty. While I wouldn’t personally cruise a boat at that speed, the I45 was rock steady nonetheless, and we covered distance in a hurry. (Watching the FloScans was incredibly real-time—seeing the fuel consumption per mile go up exponentially to the knotmeter.)
If you want a boat capable of higher speed potential, the I45 does so without fuss. Thankfully, the boat handles well at slower 9–11 knots, and with a single engine, will have plenty of range with a fuel capacity of 650–720 gallons. I could easily see taking this boat up and down the East Coast, making the Great Circle through the Great Lakes, cruising the Bahamas or Gulf of Mexico, or gunkholing up the Inside Passage up to Alaska. The boat can do all of this, as can any well-built trawler with range and stamina.
The Independence Cherubini 45 is a modern interpretation of a cruising powerboat, built by a company with generations of traditional boat building experience. Through the vision of Geoffrey White and the Cherubini family, this ocean motorboat is seen as the beginning of a new line of trawlers that offers comfortable accommodations, performance, and the value of a U.S.-made yacht. With construction of the new 49-footer getting under way, perhaps the Cherubinis and Geoffrey White will next look to their future dream of even larger custom trawlers.
For now, however, they have their hands full, building custom boats—at the same time pursuing the goal of building better boats, faster, in the time-honored tradition that has been a hallmark of the state’s boat building history.
New Jersey is definitely back in the custom yacht business. As more yards step up to the task of producing fine cruising motorboats that satisfy growing interest, we hope they too aspire to reach the same lofty goals that are fundamental to the Independence Cherubini Company.
Truly, a formula for excellence.