Pete Mathews and his brother, Bob, moved to Easton, Maryland, early in the 1960s and spent a lot of time around boats on the Tred Avon River. “I just love the area,” Pete says. The brothers, both of whom have a lot of experience in woodworking, also fell in love with bay boats. They’d worked at Knapp’s Narrows Marina on Tilghman Island and began building the 19-foot Hampton one-design sailboat. When Cecil Robbins’ shop came onto the market in 2002, the brothers bought the land and the tooling for the deadrise boats that Robbins had been designing and building since 1973. A short time later, they moved the business to Denton, Maryland.
“The hulls are proven on the bay and beyond,” Mathews says. They have the signature sharp entry and nearly flat after sections of the early deadrise boats. Combined with a relatively broad beam, the bottom gives these Robbins designs great stability. “They’re easily driven,” Mathews says, “so they’re economical to run.” The Mathews 40, powered by a single 500-horsepower Yanmar diesel, burns about 15 gallons of fuel per hour at a cruising speed of 15 to 18 knots. River Rat, the Mathews 40 that I drove, is powered by a 575-horsepower Caterpillar C9. She burns 20 to 22 gallons an hour at her 20-knot cruise. Majestic is the best way to describe the boat’s handling. The steering was light and positive, and the boat leaned outboard just a little during turns at cruising speed.
Although the hull is seaworthy, Mathews doesn’t suggest taking her offshore. “You don’t want to have windows that far forward if you get into nasty seas out there,” he says. “You don’t want 16 feet of cockpit that can fill up either.” Mathews says that River Rat is by far the fanciest, heaviest and most well-equipped boat he’s ever built. To duplicate her now would cost about $700,000. Mathews Brothers, 410-479-9720; www.mathewsboats.com
Dave Mason was a waterman for 20 years before he started building boats for a living. His shop is in Crisfield, Maryland, but he builds boats to the Deltaville, Virginia, model. Chesapeake Boats builds the larger custom models from AA and AB plywood and sheathes the hulls with fiberglass set in polyester resin. Mason doesn’t see the need for epoxy, and he’s never had a problem with the resin he uses. Mason builds by rack of eye, and cold-molding the custom boats lets the team easily adjust shapes and dimensions to suit the owner’s requirements.
The aesthetics of Mason’s boats recall those of the traditional deadrise models, but the superstructure is a lot larger, because most of his pleasure boat customers want a large pilothouse and spacious accommodations. Some of his boats have a clipper bow and others the traditional straight stem. The wooden boats have wide chine flats along the run, which enhance planing and improve stability; moderate deadrise aft; and a high chine in the forward sections to deflect spray. These elements set his hulls apart from the early deadrise workboats. Mason said that a typical 50-footer powered by a single 600-horsepower Cummins has a top speed of about 30 knots. Chesapeake Boats, 410-623-2293; www.chesapeakeboats.com
Bill Judge has been building boats for about 20 years. Although he likes and understands the traditional deadrise type, he wanted to build something that honors tradition above the waterline but rides on a modified V-hull, weighs less, has enough freeboard to handle big seas and is much faster than a traditional deadrise. In the design of his boats, he’s eliminated most of the keel and given the after sections a deadrise of 10 degrees. The entry remains steep and sharp, but he’s rounded the hard knuckle where the stem and keel meet, which was common on the early workboats.
The Oxford 37 Overnighter shows how much tradition influences the shape of the house and trunk cabin, but the structure is much larger than any found on a workboat. Judge has equipped this boat for comfortable and luxurious cruising. Her dry weight is about 12,500 pounds, and she’s powered by a single 480-horsepower Cummins QSB 5.9-M diesel. Her top speed is more than 30 knots. At her 28-knot cruise, she burns 18 gallons an hour. Judge Yachts, 410-479-9770; www.judgeyachts.com
Each of these builders relies on word of mouth and the Internet to spread the word about their boats. The designs are practical and seaworthy and can serve their owners very well, no matter where they use the boats. Although traditionalists have mourned the passing of wooden deadrise boats, and some of them have banded together to save the ones that remain, the style won’t disappear. The type simply thrives in other forms. “The watermen of the bay would have kept it alive no matter what,” Pete Mathews says, “because they think it’s the only boat to have.”
Chesapeake Bay Deadrise: Rise Up