We boaters and anglers rely on weather reports, but if you want to see a difference of opinions then look no further than they way we get our forecasts. On one side of the fence is a group using websites, Doppler radar, and satellite imagery. On the other side is a group dedicated to the Farmer’s Almanac and country wisdom. And as our groundhog friend Punxsutawney Phil’s shadow determines how much more winter we’ll have, a sock burning party announces that Spring has finally sprung.
On the spring equinox, many boaters gather together to burn their winter socks. Why? Because warm weather means boaters don’t have to wear socks. It’s a time of celebration, a time of rebirth, and a time of optimism and cheer. From Alabama to New YorkState and all the way back to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, boaters throw parties celebrating the warm weather and the kick off of the boating season. Some groups feature oyster roasts while others have bands and dancing, educational clinics, and beer. In the end there is a big bonfire where socks are burned to a crisp. The phoenix, and in this case it is Spring, rises out of the ashes.
There is a historical root to the story, with some believing that ancient mariners aboard tri-masters burned their socks when the trade winds blew warm. Their socks were soaked with tar and oil from the long voyage anyway, and they hadn’t been washed in months. Warm weather meant sailors could roam the decks barefooted, and torched the socks they no longer needed. If you’ve ever been at sea for months on end, what else is there to do?
The legend was reborn in the 1970’s in Eastport, Maryland. As fate has it, Bob Turner, the owner of the Annapolis Harbor Boatyard invited his friends to have a few beers and burn their socks. His idea was to celebrate spring and to pay tribute to the watermen of the Cheasapeake. His idea spread like wildfire, and now many boating communities partake in the unofficial kick off to the boating season.
In hard-core boating communities, boaters view socks as a sign of mundane life. They’re viewed as what is worn when you go to work. Barefeet represent freedom, a care-free life on the water, and of summer vacations as a kid. In these communities it’s not illegal to wear socks but it’s certainly frowned upon. Boat shoes, yes, just no socks. This winter has been very hard and unusually long, so pour a beer and burn your socks. Spring is officially here.
Tom Keer is an award-winning freelance writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Visit him at www.tomkeer.com or at www.thekeergroup.com.