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Fifty years ago, wooden ships dominated the waterways of the Chesapeake Bay. With the advent of fiberglass boats, wooden ship building is quickly becoming a dying art. At least one family on Maryland’s Eastern Shore is keeping the craft alive.
In the picturesque waterfront town of Oxford, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore, just a few blocks from the iconic three century old Oxford Bellevue Ferry, sits the Cutts & Case Shipyard.
When fiberglass boats became the preferred material for boat building a generation ago, wooden ship builders like Eddie Cutts Jr. and his brother Ronnie were seemingly pushed to the fringes of the industry. They now focus on restoration and repairing old wooden vessels often owned by passionate hobbyists from metropolitan areas.
But even though the industry has changed, the craft has not. The work they do continues to pay homage to an almost forgotten and time consuming artform and the legacy of their father, Edmund Cutts, who was considered an innovator who patented a way of building wooden boats known as the "Cutts Method."
"He invented a great way to fix and build — it’s a beautiful way to build — it’s light, it's strong, and it’s boatbuilding," says Ronnie Cutts, son of Edmund. "It’s nice boat-building, so we do, we try to keep that legacy going."
And while the profits may not be as big as they once were, the demand for this kind of work doesn’t look it’s fading anytime soon, as the Cutts and Case Shipyard is filled with wooden sailboats of all sizes that need the tender loving care and attention only a master craftsman can provide. And for Ronnie and Eddie, each boat reminds them of the lessons their father taught them as they continue to master the artform of creating seaworthy wooden vessels for this region’s waterways.
And even though wooden boats are no longer the norm, Eddie and Ronnie say they can still be the model of what a good boat should be.