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For Md. Sailors, a Sockless Rite of Spring

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The sailors in Annapolis, Md., herald the season by taking off their socks. Believing that real boaters go sockless until fall, these guys add to their spring ritual with a ceremonial sock-burning.


You of course are aware that it is a fashion faux pas among the boating crowd to wear socks with deck shoes after the vernal equinox and in Annapolis, Maryland, that has led to a celebration of spring that reflects the city's maritime heritage. Joel McCord of member station WYPR has a report.

JOEL MCCORD: Been wearing those socks around the boatyard all winter, picking up metal shavings and gunk and you don't know what to do with them come spring? The folks at the Annapolis Maritime Museum have the answer: Burn them.

Mr. BRIAN DEGRAW (Employee of Annapolis Maritime Museum): I mean, it's tradition. You made it through the winter and it's time to go. It - game on.

MCCORD: Brian DeGraw was fanning the fire to keep it going despite the constant rain. He works at the museum in what's known here as the Maritime Republic of Eastport. That's a community of boat builders and sail makers where the locals often talk with their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks. It's said this tradition started some 30 years ago. Bob Turner dropped a pair of nasty boatyard socks into an old coffee can, doused them with lighter fluid and lit a match.

Mr. DEGRAW: It just seemed like a good time after a very cold winter in '77 or '78, something like that, just to pronounce spring with a little bit more of an event than turning the calendar.

MCCORD: Nowadays, as many as 100 people gather at the museum by an old oyster house for the ritual. This year's event began promptly at 5:03 p.m. - that's Eastport Standard Time - with a pre-sock burning ritual, oysters and beer. Host Mark Travaglini called the crowd to order, sort of, to begin with a pledge.

Mr. MARK TRAVAGLINI (Master of Ceremonies, Annapolis Eastport Burning of the Socks): This is usually recited with a finger - lay a finger beside your nose.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TRAVAGLINI: I pledge allegiance…

Unidentified Group: I pledge allegiance…

Mr. TRAVAGLINI: …to the flag…

Unidentified Group: …to the flag…

Mr. TRAVAGLINI …of the Maritime Republic of Eastport.

Unidentified Group: …of the Maritime Republic of Eastport.

Mr. TRAVAGLINI: And to the Republic…

MCCORD: Then there was the reading of Ode to the Sock Burners by Jeff Holland, the museum's director.

Mr. JEFF HOLLAND (Director, Annapolis Maritime Museum): Them Eastport boys got an odd tradition. When the sun swings to its equinoctial position, they build a…

MCCORD: And the time had come.

Mr. TRAVAGLINI: Okay, ladies and gentlemen, if you'll dock your socks - I think that's the right term, am I right?

MCCORD: Men, women and children pulled off their socks and tossed them on the fire, red socks, blue socks, green socks, and even clean socks. Okay, some people cheat.

Mr. TRAVAGLINI: Give it up, people. Give up that socks. Pantyhose are accepted.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MCCORD: Knowing that the weather this time of year is notoriously volatile, the organizers give sock burners an out. If the temperature drops below 30 and the wind gusts over 17 knots, you can put your socks back on. It's called the wimp chill factor.

I'm Joel McCord in Annapolis.

(Soundbite of music)

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