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Boat Builders Keep Traditions Alive in Tiny Maryland Town

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The tiny town of Oxford, Md. may be best known for its 331-year-old ferry service, but it is also home to another long-running tradition, one centered around building and repairing boats.
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The tiny town of Oxford, Md. may be best known for its 331-year-old ferry service, but it is also home to another long-running tradition, one centered around building and repairing boats.

The tiny town of Oxford, Md. may be best known for its 331-year-old ferry service. But Oxford is also home to another long-running tradition, one centered around building and repairing boats.

Eddie and Ronnie Cutts have been part of that tradition for many years. Their father, Edmond, was a boatbuilder, and one of their ancestors actually opened the first shipyard in the state of Maine in the 1600s.

These days, Eddie and Ronnie run their family business, Cutts & Case Shipyard, which builds custom wooden boats and is known in the boating world for a technique known as the "Cutts method."

We sat down with Eddie Cutts recently to talk about that approach to boat building.

The “Cutts Method”

Cutts says boat building begins with molds, which determine the shape of the boat.

“Then we plank those molds over,” he says. “But instead of using full thickness planking, we will use about three quarters of the thickness. So if we want to finish with an inch boat, we might use three quarters- to five-eighths-inch planking for the first layer. And then across the bottom of the boat, we cut grooves every four five inches and in those grooves we put Kevlar cord. Those Kevlar cords are like five or six times the strength of steel for their weight, and they glue beautifully.”

“They were actually formulated by the DuPont company as an alternative to steel belting in radial tires,” he says. “They later became used quite extensively for Kevlar vests in military service clothes for protection, high abrasion and a lot of brake pad so that we could move away from asbestos.”

Maintaining Traditions

The Cutts brothers are competing against boat builders for whom fiberglass is now the norm, not wood.

“It gets harder in some senses, particularly from our standpoint with the maintenance side of it,” he says. “A lot of these fiberglass boats just don't require the maintenance the old wooden boats used to require. The wooden boats, we would typically hull them every year and really go through, replace caulking cotton and maybe replace a bad piece of wood here or there. We’d have 25 or 30 boats and we’d end up painting those boats from the trucks on the top of the masts all the way to the bottom of the ballast.”

“A lot of these more modern fiberglass boats don't usually go through such a maintenance schedule as that,” he says. “Some of them are very beautiful and artistically done, but the older boats, there was a lot more individual art in every one of them. It was an art that was built into the boat by the builder interpreting what the designers’ original art was and then putting his own finishes on it as a mark of pride of the craftsman.”

Music: "Coney Island Baby" by Tom Waits from Blood Money

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