August 1, 2013

Nine years of tweaks to the original dealer demo.

The following is dedicated to owners of the Mathews Brothers 29. It describes several upgrades and modifications that we've made to our Mathews Brothers Patriot 29 since we took delivery of her in 2005.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I was a partner with Pete Mathews and Bob Mathews in Mathews Brothers for ten years, and for a time our boat was the dealer demo displayed in Chesapeake Bay boat shows. I saw Mathews being built from the hull up dozens of times, and our boat has a number of tweaks that come about when you have the ability to stare at a boat from conception to delivery for hours on end.

The design of the first Mathews Brothers 29 was the Blackwater, more of a cruiser. It has a full galley, a larger head than the Patriot, but less area topside.  The theory of the Patriot design, in contrast, is a picnic boat for daytripping with friends and family. Cruising amenities are less on a Patriot than with a Blackwater because overnights are intended to be occasional while social space topside is maximized.  

We took delivery of our Patriot in 2005, but then later decided that we wanted to do longer distance cruising.  Having now spent nearly a month living on one, we learned that the Patriot can be configured to be a very comfortable cruising platform.  True, you won’t be able to cook a Thanksgiving dinner on one of these boats; you’re limited to warming up food. Also, the head is minimal in contrast with the Blackwater. Still, these single engine boats are incredibly fuel efficient, so it is worth the tight quarters if you want to move along at a nice clip and have space to move around while at anchor.

One thing deserves mention before working through the list below, and that is the quality of work associated with the Mathews boats.  Over the years, we had grown accustomed to this level of quality and assumed that all boats were built like Mathews Brothers.  During our Champlain cruise, people from larger, more expensive, and bigger brand name boats would study ours and become incredulous with the workmanship and choice of materials.  They told Dorie and me that we didn’t understand how much junk was the norm on most cruising boats.

Cruising Essentials

While everything we have added to our Patriot has made cruising much more pleasant, the first set of upgrades described below are the ones that we think are the must haves.

Number one is an autopilot. Mathews Brothers installed a Simrad unit which takes all the work out of long distance driving. Try a four hour cruise down Chesapeake Bay when a strong wind and tide are working in opposite directions. You’re getting beaten up, and while trying to steer a straight line, you get worn out. This device makes long trips a joy. Most importantly, in rough water, the Simrad can steer the boat better than we can.

Note where it is located, right below the throttle.  From there we can sit back in the captain’s seat and steer the boat simply by pressing the buttons on the unit.  My theory is that the unit pays for itself over a couple of years because you’re going in a straight line to the next mark, not wandering back and forth wasting fuel.

Now,most of you Mathews 29 owners are going to get upset with the next item. We have the hatches in the roof of the pilothouse pictured below. 

We can keep the windshields closed tight on very hot days and still stay cool.  Crack them open just a little bit, and sooner or later big wakes or heavy water is going comes crashing over the bow and into your lap and onto everything inside the house.  After spending hundreds of hours at boat shows, it’s amazing how many pilothouse boats don’t have these hatches. You simply get baked alive on a hot summer day inside these airless greenhouses.  My understanding is that these hatches are now standard items on all new 29’s.

We also saw these chairs at a boat show several years ago.  Again for long cruises when you are getting constantly jostled around, nothing beats a big comfortable seat. I have no idea what is available for this application today, but it really is worth investigating. A hard chair gets old very quickly.

Another essential is the Bimini that covers the deck area. 

Note the vertical flap over the stern.  Without it, you sit on the aft seats with the sun beating down on you. Also, check out the rig. Two stainless steel poles mounted in the fishing rod holders, then a horizontal adjustable pole tying the two vertical poles together.  The adjustable pole can be purchased from the West Marine catalog.  Steve Price of Price’s Yacht Canvas in St. Michaels put the rig together for us and made the stainless steel poles.Holding up the center of the awning is a boat hook.

And what I like most about this setup is that when the awning is not in use there are no folded up poles in the way cluttering up the look of the boat.  Everything is out of the way. Here is how we store them on our boat.

We added these fender brackets shown below that work very well.  This seems to be a spot from which they are always hung whenever we need to use fenders. We got lots of compliments on those from marina staff.

With respect to other canvas essentials, these drop down curtains made by Price’s Yacht Canvas are very helpful. 

On rainy days, these are very useful in keeping seat cushions dry because we stand them up on end behind these curtains.  And they provide a lot of protection on cold days when the winds are cutting. Also, during rainy days, these curtains help keep the water off the hatches just aft of the pedestal seats that are described separately below.  These curtains are particularly helpful in marinas.  We always keep the middle curtain down when docked because it screens off the V-berth area and provides greater privacy. When someone is walking past our boat on the dock, they can’t see down into the cabin.

By the way, on our Champlain cruise where it rained for several days on end and things were always wet, we improvised this clothesline just forward of the curtains. It was terrific for hanging wet towels and jackets when docked at marinas which have rules about where clothes can be hung.

The Patriot 29 Dingy Set Up

For any cruiser, a dingy is an essential, but the Mathews Brothers 29’s are just that,only 29 feet.  The rig that we have is the smallest Zodiac made, and we store it on top of the pilot house roof when underway in a canvas cover made by Price’s Yacht Canvas. 

We power it with an electric Torqeeda that works fine. There is no room on a boat this size for a gasoline motor and all the smells that go along with it, so an electric motor is essential.

Increasing Storage Space Topside 

One thing I noticed during the construction of the Mathews boats was how much space there was between the stringers that got covered up during construction.  For day trips and short cruises this space really doesn’t matter, but for longer distance cruises when every square inch counts, these areas become invaluable real estate.  What Mathews Brothers did for us was eliminate the starboard cooler and then cut through the deck area forward of the coolers to create the storage areas pictured below.

We couldn’t have done our long trip without all these additional storage areas. We kept tools in the forward port hatch and over a dozen small plastic storage tubs with canned and packaged goods on the starboard side.

Speaking of food, one inexpensive addition was a piece of Starboard that Pete Mathews cut for us that we keep under the cushion on the engine box when not in use. When it comes time to prepare lunch, snacks or dinner, we lay the Starboard on top of the seat cushion. It becomes a giant cutting board and food preparation area, plus the seat cushion is protected.  It’s great for cocktail cruises and raft ups, because you can have a big spread laid out on it.


...and after.

I also screwed a sheet of marine plywood into the middle aft seat hatch area. This works great for a garbage bag or two for a day or so.

The Chart Box

Here’s a beautiful addition built by Mathews Brothers.  The curved area ahead of the port seat is pretty much useless for anything other than towels or a duffel bag, but the addition of this combination chart box with a small food prep area on top turns this area into something very functional.

Cockpit Shelves and Desks

In front of the port side pedestal seat, the Mathews built this shelf under which we keep our 12 volt coolers and plastic storage bins. 

We have two Dometic coolers.  The small one which you see pictured above can be used as a freezer, and a larger one which we have is the refrigerator. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the larger one working for the Lake Champlain trip, something we really could have used on our extended cruise.  The small Dometic is amazing; it pulls hardly any amps and can run all night long without affecting the house battery to any great extent. I typically take the large one for extended cruises in the Chesapeake, and I've never had an issue with it pulling down the batteries.

Note that this shelf becomes a chart table when turned upside down and placed on the steering wheel.  This worked great as an office during our Champlain cruise.  This is really an amazing piece of woodworking. Congratulations goes to Dave for this stroke of genius.

Note that one side is Starboard so that it can be used as a footrest while the other is teak for the desk top.  This desk sits on top of the steering wheel, and to get the angle right, Mathews built this spacer that also keeps the wheel from flopping around.  That’s quality woodwork.

To the side of the captain’s chair, Mathews built this shelf which again provides additional storage area.  

Underneath the shelf we keep a cooler which we call our pantry.  It contains our coffee maker and lots of kitchen supplies.  When in use, it goes up on the Starboard as pictured a few photographs above.


We have the typical lighting choices below in the cabin and topside,
including the courtesy lights under the gunwales which are very helpful at night.  Mathews also added these lights on the companionway steps. 
These are helpful when on the hook or underway at night.  They provide
just enough light to keep you from stumbling but not enough to attract bugs or otherwise be a distraction.

One addition we made following the Champlain trip, a very tiny light in the head for a night light.  That avoids getting up in the middle of the night and choosing between a pitch black space or the blinding light of the regular one in the head.  


We have added several 12 volt adapters and upgraded USB ports to power cell phones and other devices.   You can’t have too many. We have also installed a 120 volt outlet topside so that I can plug in my laptop when working at the chart table when plugged into shore power.  We also use it to plug in the coffeemaker topside when I get up early and Dorie is sleeping down below.

We have Sirius XM radio, and the receiver is one where the aerial is permanently attached to the unit with a long cord.   I put the aerial up on the roof when in use which is hardly ever.  It’s kind of a cheesy setup and not something the Mathews did, so I’m embarrassed to show a picture of it. But we did the month on Lake Champlain without ever turning the radio on.  In the marinas, it would just bother our fellow boaters, and when on the hook it ruins the Zen of the wilderness moment.

We do have a cell phone booster which was expensive to install, but it
is hard to tell whether it makes any difference.  The whole time we were
on the Champlain cruise, I wondered if it was even functioning.  It is the
white aerial just aft of the GPS aerial.  Again, not something the Mathews
did.  I used a contractor out of Ocean City, but I have gotten phone
signals around Smith Island and on the Wye River area where cell coverage is not particularly good.  I've found that I can be anchored in remote spots on the lower Eastern Shore and it picks up enough of a signal that I can watch the news on my iPad and baseball games. The white vertical bar is the cell booster.

Down Below

The living area inside the cabin area of the Patriots is minimal, but we have set it up such that we could cruise indefinitely using it.  It did not take many overnights to realize that the key to comfortable cruising is to get as much stuff put away as possible so that every time someone goes below they don’t have to move duffels and tote bags around.  The big breakthrough was when we made three additions to the cabin area.  First, we had the large cabinet shown below built above the V-berth.

The space above the V-berth in any boat is just wasted air, and we literally doubled the boat’s interior cabinet storage area by doing this.  All our clothes now go in this cabinet, in the drawers under the V-berth cushions, or in the hanging locker.  There are no duffel bags having to be moved out into the cockpit area every time we go below.  No clothes are stored anywhere else.  You’re shocked?  If you’re a fashion maven, this type of lifestyle is not for you!

The second addition was this canvas hammock that goes far forward in the V-berth area. All our bedding goes in this hammock area, which means none of this stuff is floating around the V-berth.  Blankets and sheets take up a whole lot of space, and here again the hammock gets it out of the way such that if you are reading down below on a rainy day, you can stretch your legs the length of the V-berth unobstructed.  When cruising, this hammock is totally stuffed with things. Steve Price of Price's Yacht Canvas in St. Michaels put this hammock together for us.

The third addition was the V-berth shelves pictured below.  They end up
picking up all those personal odds and ends that would otherwise float around the boat.  When cruising, you can’t believe how much stuff gets sucked up by these shelves, and we use small plastic storage tubs to organize things on top of the shelves.

We also found that the V-berths themselves were slightly too small to sleep on comfortably, so we added these extensions.  It may seem like a small item, but it’s amazing how much more comfortable this makes sleeping aboard. You can turn over without engaging in an athletic event to avoid falling off the V-berth.  Without them, you tend to have to wedge yourself against the sides of the V-berth area and stay in that position all night.  And we always felt as if we were about to fall off the V-berth.  Since mounting these extensions, we have never removed them.  We can still easily access the drawers and cabinets below.  By the way, check out the additional AC power outlet.  Great for plugging in a laptop when docked at a marina and sitting on the V-berth.

One thing that is essential for cruising in the summer even in New England is air conditioning.  On a hot summer evening, it would be very unpleasant without it in a marina where you can’t get any breeze.  

The Almighty Head

A cruise is either pleasant or a complete bust depending on whether the
head is your friend.  The one that originally came with the boat worked
fine, but it sounded like a dying windmill when we used it and would wake up not only ourselves but the people in boats tied up alongside.  So Mathews upgraded to a Vetus TMW12V which is excellent.  It is very efficient, and it has a variety of flush settings that does an excellent job conserving water.

On a boat this small where water storage is at a premium, we found
that the 20 gallon tank is adequate with the Vetus head.  Still, you just
never miss an opportunity to refill the tanks.  To keep extra water aboard, we use three of these 2 ½ gallon water jugs which we keep in the large hatch midship.

We also asked Mathews to enlarge the holding tank to 40 gallons which worked well for the Champlain cruise, and we had no problems with it.  It has been our experience that once a holding tank gets half full, we have to head for the pumpout to get rid of the smell no matter what we have done as a treatment.  What helps is this holding tank gauge which is in the head pictured on the left.

We have become solid believers in keeping all waste in the holding tank, down to the gray water from the sinks and showers.  Mathews installed the bladder tank which worked very well when we were in Lake Champlain.  No fluids of any kind ever go overboard.

Shore Power

Originally, the AC power inlet was inside the cockpit near the port pedestal.  For us, the shore power cord kept getting in the way.  We asked the Mathews to relocate it to the spot pictured below, and that has worked well.  At no time does the power cord ever come inside the living area of the boat.  When plugged in, the cord lays on the deck. Also, we cruise with one 50 foot cord and an extra 15 foot cord. Some of the runs get to be very long at marinas.

Teak Sole

In the photographs above, you saw the teak flooring that Mathews installed.  In addition to the aesthetics, we have found that it significantly dampens the sound of the engine both at idle speeds and when running hard.  It must soak up a lot of the sound being roadcast by the vibrating floor.

As we remember or are reminded of other upgrades we did, we’ll post additional blogs. Please be sure to read this for improvements beyond the ones listed above. 

Happy enhanced cruising!

Note: The following addition was made in June of 2019.


Because we like to cruise early in the spring and late in the fall, Mathews installed the heater pictured below.

It is powered by the engine cooling system with a hose feeding a radiator inside the box and a fan blowing across it. When the drop down curtains close up the cockpit and the fan is turned to high, everyone's jacket comes off. It's as warm as driving in a car on a cold day. We have been out when the temperature is in the 40's and have been as comfortable as we could be moving at cruising speed.

AIS and iPad Bracket

One improvement can be shown, another is hidden. Here is what can be seen.

For navigation, we use a combination of a chartplotter and a navigation app on an iPad. It works very well because one device is course up, the other north up, and one device can be zoomed in checking on water depths and the other zoomed out showing distant nav marks. And having two different looks at the same thing provides reassurance. Mathews built the iPad holder shown above.

What can't be seen is an AIS system whose output is displayed on the iPad. We often transition the main Chesapeake, and it is very helpful to be able to track other boats, particularly big ships on foggy days. And it is even more helpful that they can always see us.

Since I'm often cruising alone and now I'm in my seventies, it's good to know that our boat can be tracked from anywhere in the world should help be needed.

Initially, I wanted a separate screen, but there wasn't room to locate one. In practice, I really don't need one. The AIS readouts don't clutter the iPad screen with excess information.

Where I find it most helpful is when going up and down winding rivers where there is barge traffic. It can be a tight fit, and it's good to know well in advance that something large is approaching even if it can't yet be seen because of bends in the river. Here is something going past me with thirty feet to spare in the Pocomoke. I spotted on the barge and tug on my iPad 20 minutes before the rig came into view.

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