Holding Course - Soundings Online

How can you quantify boatbuilding on the Chesapeake Bay? There would be no bay as we know it without the craft: no skipjacks or buy boats, no log canoes or Baltimore clippers, no Trumpy yachts or Whirlwind runabouts. Boatbuilding is as old as human habitation on the bay itself, and despite the vagaries of time, tradition and economic tsunamis, it endures. Whether relying on wood or embracing the most modern materials, Chesapeake boatbuilders create everything from iconic deadrise workboat hulls to new and custom designs, and they continue to thrive. 

Mathews Brothers

Pete Mathews at his shop in Denton, Maryland 

Pete Mathews at his shop in Denton, Maryland 

Many bay builders trace their design roots to the traditional Chesapeake deadrise workboat. Few have committed to it as deeply, and varied as successfully on its theme, as Mathews Brothers.

Pete and his wife, Annie, have kept the yard a family operation.

Pete and his wife, Annie, have kept the yard a family operation.

The brothers—Pete and Bob—along with Pete’s wife, Annie, as business manager, began building 18-foot Hampton One Designs out of a shop in St. Michaels, Maryland, in the mid-1990s. They soon purchased the molds of bay boatbuilder Clarence Lempke: a 16-foot scow and two deadrise workboats, 22 and 38 feet. A customer and the brothers brainstormed ways to evolve the 22 from a basic workboat to a pocket-sized cruiser. That’s the Classic Bay Cruiser 22, pairing traditional deadrise with cruising comforts.

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In 1999, they doubled down on deadrises with the purchase of bay designer Cecil Robbins’s shop and molds, 29 and 40 feet. From there, they created the Blackwater 29, Patriot 29 and Mathews 40. Then and now, Pete says, customers were encouraged to collaborate on concepts. “I think in this business you have to have a very hard time saying no to people,” he says. “You want to do what they want to a certain extent. It keeps you thinking, and that’s part of the fun side of the business, thinking outside of your own box, because we all tend to get stuck in a rut now and then.”

In 2008, Bob left the company in an amicable buyout, and Pete and Annie moved it to a shop in Denton, Maryland. They added buildings and a hydraulic trailer to supplement their boatbuilding and repair business. They have winter storage for about 70 boats—many of them Mathews customers who enjoy the scenic run up the Choptank River each fall to get hauled.

In 2014, Eastport Yacht Co. asked Mathews to build its boats, and Eastport’s designer, Mick Price, a longtime collaborator with the Mathewses, has a hand in their latest project: a 26-footer that is expected to launch this summer. Like all Mathews boats, the hull will be solid glass with Divinycell-cored decks, seeking balance between strength and weight. Mathews also recently launched an updated version of the Patriot 29, adding a turned-down chine and planing strakes about two-thirds abaft the bow. “We love the hull and platform Cecil built, but we always added spray rails because they tend to be wet up in the bow.” Pete says. “Now, she’s running very dry and picking up out of the water too.

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Since 1998, not including 19 Hampton One Designs and four Eastport Yachts, Mathews Brothers has built 58 boats. Four more are in progress, as are more generations of the family getting into the business.

“Our son, Spencer, works here with us as well, and his wife, Patience, works in the office with Annie with the three grandkids,” Pete says. “It’s a lot of fun actually. We have about 15 employees now. I’ve got a really good group of people here, and obviously we couldn’t do this without all of them.”

A Patriot 29 underway

A Patriot 29 underway

Composite Yacht

The minute you walk into Composite Yacht, headquartered in Trappe, Maryland, in a former strip mall near the Choptank River, you get a sense of energy that’s barely contained. The 20-year-old boatbuilding and yacht repair business is constructing a 17,000-square-foot facility next door, to consolidate and expand operations that are presently spread between here and a warehouse in Cambridge, Maryland, across the river.

The crew has some bubbly to celebrate the new Composite 55.

The crew has some bubbly to celebrate the new Composite 55.

There also are four new builds underway, of the company’s Carolina- and bay-style boats from 26 to 46 feet length overall, as well as a 55-footer. Naval architect Lou Codega (the talent behind the Regulator 26 and more) designed the 55. “We’ve got the very best in the industry working on this boat: the best laminate engineers, hydrodynamic specialists. The research going into it is amazing,” says Rob Hardy, Composite’s sales manager.

His father, Martin Hardy, built his first boat at age 18. It was a traditional lapstrake fishing and sailing dory. Today, affectionately known as “Shop Dad,” the elder Hardy is the managing member of Composite. Rob works there with his brother Lewis, the shop manager, overseeing a team of two dozen craftsmen who build everything from tuna towers to interiors. “The only thing we don’t do on site is canvas,” Rob says.

The Composite Yacht 46 is one of the company’s most popular boats.

The Composite Yacht 46 is one of the company’s most popular boats.

About half the yard’s work is new builds—much of it custom—while the other half is service and upgrades. Among Composite’s most popular boats are the 46CB, built from the Chesapeake deadrise Markley 46 hull, and the Carolina-style 26 drawn by Mick Price, a former senior designer at Farr Yacht Design and now co-owner, designer and engineer at Eastport Yacht Co. The 32CB is built from another well-known bay hull, the Carman, while the new CY32/34 is an in-house design with a Carolina flare that can be built for inboard (32 feet) or outboard (34 feet) engines. All the boats are built with composites and vacuum-bagging to minimize weight and maximize strength.

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The 55 is the yard’s most intriguing challenge to date, built for an owner who wanted a traditional Chesapeake look, standard propulsion (diesel inboards), and speed and more speed—exactly how much, Rob isn’t saying. Tested in the Stevens Institute of Technology’s high-speed towing tank, the carbon and Kevlar hull is vacuum-bagged and laminated with heat-activated urethane acrylate resin, for which the team built a 65-by-20-foot oven to bring the process to the required 180 degrees. The bare hull with stringers weighs in at a mere 5,800 pounds. The boat will be powered with a pair of 2,000-hp MTUs. Maritime Research Associates in Ann Arbor, Michigan, worked with Michigan Wheel to design and build the struts, wheels and rudders. “It’s so exciting for us,” Rob says of the 55. “We feel like we’re a little boatbuilding shop, and here we are building this incredible boat and working with legendary people. It’s astonishing.”

Mast & Mallet Boatworks

Sawdust is Reid’s most notable Thomas Point boat.

Sawdust is Reid’s most notable Thomas Point boat.

Amid the contemporary obsession with multiple outboard engines, there is something deeply refreshing about talking with Joe Reid about his current project: an update of the 22-footer that more or less launched the boatbuilding career of his Mast & Mallet Boatworks in Edgewater, Maryland, in the 1980s.

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An artisan with wood, Reid soaked up skills from some of the Trumpy builders at Hartge Yacht Yard in Galesville, where he started his career in the 1970s. He’s probably best known for his collaboration with designer Mike Kaufman on a line of custom Thomas Point boats. Ranging from 26 to 43 feet, the boats blend traditional Chesapeake deadrise and Down East lines. They’re built in cold-molded, double-planked, Western red cedar that’s finished in a layer of 10-ounce glass.

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Mast & Mallet built about 24 of the boats during the 1990s and into the 2000s, the most notable being Sawdust—named for the message on the shop’s answering machine that says, “We’re out making sawdust.” That boat did a 7,500-mile Great Loop adventure and a side trip to the Bahamas with nary a hiccup.

When steady contracts dried up after the Great Recession, Reid looked to the past to discern how to keep moving forward. His gaze landed on that Chesapeake 22, which he had first drawn based on his research into the Smith Island crab scrape. The boat is low to the water with a sheer rising up to the bow. Built of Western red cedar and frames of Douglas fir, the boat’s topsides are single-planked and edge-glued on frames every 2 feet. The bottom is cold-molded with two layers of planking running fore and aft, and with a layer of glass for cosmetics and durability.

As for power, Reid is also sticking with tradition, but with an update. “Over the years people would ask, ‘Do you want to do an outboard version?’ And I always said I could, but I didn’t like the idea of an outboard that much because this boat is derived from sailboat lines, and it has a raked transom,” he says. “An outboard would look kind of odd, and I didn’t want to lose the raked transom. So, I came up with putting an outboard in a well.”

Joe Reid continues to build in wood. 

Joe Reid continues to build in wood. 

He’s testing this prototype with a 90-hp outboard (the original inboards were 30- to 40-hp diesels). While she gets up and goes, he’s still tweaking for better trim on plane. He’s also delving into electrical and hybrid propulsion, which he believes is the environmentally sustainable future.

And, because beautiful designs make his heart beat happily, he may build a replica of something like a Herreshoff Rozinante, or a Maynard Lowery catboat. “These are things I’ve admired over time, but I’ve never had a chance to build,” he says.

Weaver Boatworks

Jim Weaver built his first boat for himself, and since then has built 44 boats for clients. 

Jim Weaver built his first boat for himself, and since then has built 44 boats for clients. 

Where are the most world-class sportfishing boats born? North Carolina? South Florida? New Jersey? Maybe it’s in a pocket-sized, historic watermen’s town on the Chesapeake Bay called Tracys Landing, Maryland. There, for 23 years, Jim Weaver and his team at Weaver Boatworks have been turning out cold-molded custom sportfishermen.

A lifelong Marylander who married into a Chesapeake boatbuilding family, Weaver had a career in the construction trades when he bought his first sportfishing boats: an Ocean 42, and then a 55. “At the time, custom boats were a million dollars,” he says. “I thought I could build one cheaper and in my spare time.” Working in a shed behind his house, and with help from his captain, Chet Rohrbach, he lofted and cold-molded the 58-foot Dream Weaver, which launched in 1998. He and his wife, Vicki, took off for Isla Mujeres, Mexico, to fish and homeschool their two girls for a year. On their way back, passing through Palm Beach, Florida, the boat caught the eye of a man who bought her on the spot.

 A 60-foot sportfisherman 

 A 60-foot sportfisherman 

When Weaver returned to Maryland, he built a shop in Deale’s Herrington Harbour and called on naval architect Donald L. Blount—renowned for high-speed boats—to create the designs for all the Weavers that have followed. Since then, based in the original shop and a more extensive facility in nearby Hidden Harbor Marina, Weaver Boatworks has turned out 44 boats between 43 and 97 feet.

All are cold-molded Douglas fir and okoume plywood, sheathed in two layers of fiberglass on the topsides, and Kevlar-reinforced below the waterline, inside and out. Decks below are cored with Nida-Core, while foredeck and bridge soles are two layers of 6-mm okoume. The first layer is nailed and glued to the carlings and battens, and the second layer is vacuum bagged to the first. “I don’t think there’s a better way to build a boat,” Weaver says. “It’s light, very strong and stiff.”

Weaver hulls are cold-molded.

Weaver hulls are cold-molded.

Interiors are designed and built by Larry Belkov’s team at Belkov Yacht Company in Annapolis. From the start of each project, Belkov creates 3D interior designs, which are cut on CNC machines for tight tolerances.

Under construction currently are 58-, 60-, 70- and 75-footers. The 80-foot Islamar was built for an owner who had already owned a Weaver 65, and the company has built five of these “great sea boats, and very fast,” Weaver says. The 68 is also a popular model, with five built, and can top out at close to 50 knots. But maybe the most intriguing project is the center console Weaver 41. “No one’s building a cold-molded center console,” Weaver says, “so I want to apply everything we’ve learned in building sportfishermen.”

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Powered by three 350-hp Suzuki outboards (and a fourth if desired), the boat will weigh only 17,000 pounds fully loaded, with an expected speed of about 55 knots. It will be equipped with a
Seakeeper 3 stabilizer, a 6-kW Onan generator and Garmin electronics. The cabin will have a two-drawer Sub-Zero fridge, a cooktop, a standup head with a shower, two berths and air conditioning.

If the buzz on the company’s Facebook page is any indication of future sucess, the new boat is already getting more attention than any other Weaver has built. 

This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue.

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