'Is that spring in the air - or an old gym sock on fire?'
Across the USA, from Key West to Seattle, boaters celebrate the the arrival of spring with a ceremonial Burning of the Socks, signifying it will soon be warm enough to wear boat shoes without socks.
The tradition dates back to the mid-1980s when Bob Turner, then manager of the Annapolis Yacht Yard, got tired of the winter blahs. He’d spent the whole season working on OPBs (other peoples’ boats), all the while collecting metal filings, bottom paint grindings, sawdust, fiberglas fibers, and globs of paint, caulk, resin and filler in his socks. On the first day of spring one year, he took off his socks, put them in a paint tray, doused them with lighter fluid, and toasted spring with a longneck beer while they burned.
Traditionally, die-hard boaters wear deck shoes sans socks from the Vernal Equinox until winter arrives.(One exception to this rule: If on a given day the temperature drops below 30° Fahrenheit and the wind gusts over 17 knots, one can wimp out and don socks. This is known as the 'Wimp-Chill Factor.' )
A good idea to stand upwind? - .. .
'It's a good idea to stand upwind,' warned John Morgan, 77.
'There's a whole industry of people who work all winter long on people's boats so that they'll be in shape for their owners to go out and play all summer,' said Jeff Holland, director of the Annapolis Maritime Museum.
But the sock-burning ritual now draws more than boatyard workers.
Even wealthy sailboat owners delight in throwing tube socks and panty hose on the flames in this town, whose residents have a special disdain for socks. Waterfront restaurants that serve big crab feasts draw men wearing leather loafers sans socks. And the celebrants sip red wine, eat oysters and speculate how long until they could go barefoot without their toes reddening from the cold.
The tradition has been commemorated in verse, which is recited every year:
Ode to the Sock Burners
By Jefferson Holland, Poet Laureate of Eastport, 1995
Them Eastport boys got an odd tradition
When the sun swings to its Equinoxical position,
They build a little fi re down along the docks,
They doff their shoes and they burn their winter socks.
Yes, they burn their socks at the Equinox;
You might think that’s peculiar, but I think it’s not,
See, they’re the same socks they put on last fall,
And they never took ‘em off to wash ‘em, not at all.
So they burn their socks at the Equinox
In a little ol’ fi re burning nice and hot.
Some think incineration is the only solution,
‘Cause washin’ ‘em contributes to the Chesapeake’s pollution.
Through the spring and the summer and into the fall,
They go around not wearin’ any socks at all,
Just stinky bare feet stuck in old deck shoes,
Whether out on the water or sippin’ on a brew.
So if you sail into the Harbor on the 21st of March,
And you smell a smell like Limburger sauteed with laundry starch,
You’ll know you’re downwind of the Eastport docks
Where they’re burning their socks for the Equinox.