Tug of independence

11th annual competition/fundraiser celebrates Eastport, Annapolis

November 06, 2008|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,chris.guy@baltsun.com

One thing's for sure, neither Jeff Holland nor any of the conspirators who were on hand a decade ago - plotting the mock battle for independence that defines the Maritime Republic of Eastport - is ever going to reveal the whereabouts of the 1,800-foot strand of rope that has become the symbol for tongue-in-cheek competition between downtown Annapolis and its breakaway republic.

The sacred cord turns out to be an artificial fiber that was twisted to exacting standards by a manufacturer in Maine for the original Tug of War between the would-be nation and indifferent conscripts who in recent years have been gathered off the streets of downtown Annapolis.

The rope, when stretched taut by teams of 25 or so on the Eastport and Annapolis shores of Spa Creek, could easily handle 82,000 pounds of pressure, far more than the tuggers who are set for the 11th annual competition on Saturday could muster - especially at what many in the Eastport contingent consider the ungodly hour of noon.

FOR THE RECORD - In Thursday's editions, the location for today's Tug of War between Eastport and Annapolis was incorrect. The rope for the event will be stretched across Spa Creek between City Dock in Annapolis and Second Street in Eastport.
The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.
In an article in Thursday's Anne Arundel edition about yesterday's tug of war over Spa Creek between Eastport and Annapolis, Harvey Singer's name was misspelled. Also, Jessica Pachler's title was incorrect. She is minister of war. The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.

"We can't divulge the location of the rope, but when it's coiled on a spool, the diameter is as big as a hot tub," said Holland, who worries that someone from the "other side" might pilfer the 260-pound rope.

Alas, the Eastport citizens say, their prowess at the tug rope has not lead to secession. But it has generated $200,000 for charities such as Eastport Elementary's reading program, the SPCA of Anne Arundel County and the Civil Air Patrol.

Faux citizens flaunt their national flag and salute it with any and every alcoholic beverage that revelers happen to have on hand, whether it's official tug day or not. Much of the money raised during the competition comes from bars and other businesses that sponsor tugging teams that compete throughout the day.

A new twist this year will be a tugging competition between two environmental groups - the South River Federation and the Severn River Federation. The competition is expected to draw 400 or more tuggers and 1,000 spectators.

The MRE motto is "fun with a purpose" and the whole nation state thing was cooked up in a bar, as well it should be. The government's bylaws expressly forbid holding any official meeting in a place that does not serve alcohol.

Meetings are traditionally opened and closed by banging beer bottles on tables, said Jessica Pachler, a local newspaper columnist who accepted the title of Minister of Propaganda, matching her husband, Mike, who is vice-premier.

Back then, a handful of Eastport residents were kicking around ideas for bailing out local businesses that might be hurt by months of repairs that were planned for the Spa Creek Bridge - a transportation lifeline, even though the Eastporters frequently denigrate the drawbridge.

"Originally, the whole independence thing was a publicity stunt to help the business community get through the bridge repairs," said Holland, a founding father who now runs the Annapolis Maritime Museum. "Then it just sort of grew into a three-month party. We even got an award from the Public Relations Society of America."

Over the years, a core group of 15 or so Eastport die-hards has kept the event, along with a 0.5-K run and the annual self-explanatory "Burning of the Socks" ritual that marks the return of spring and weather warm enough to go skin to skin with a pair of Docksiders.

Eastport veterans say the community events can be likened to ultimately laid-back softball leagues where any well-placed beer bottle that is hit and spilled counts as an automatic out.

In recent years, says Jessica Pachler, the toughest part has been in generating interest among businesses' owners and potential tugging crews.

"This year, we had just about given up, and thought we'd just organize a community festival on the Eastport side," Pachler said. "You'd think as much as they've lost lately, they'd have a collective chip on their shoulder to be more competitive."

Instead, this year, Harry Singer, a semiretired economics professor who lives in Eastport, has picked up the slack and is out lining up business owners who're willing to kick in $125 sponsorship fees.

"I'm new to Annapolis, but I just don't want to see the tradition die," Singer said. "I knew half-a-dozen people I could shame into taking part. I didn't step up, so much as open my big mouth. It's all so zany, but very clever."

Dick Franyo, who owns the Boatyard Bar and Grill, says attitude is everything in Eastport, and the annual shenanigans have become good marketing.

"It's all a part of our lifestyle - any excuse for standing around outdoors with a drink in your hand," Franyo said. "It's great branding for Eastport. It helps everybody who does business there."

IF YOU GO

What: Eastport-Annapolis' 11th Annual Tug of War

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday

Where: Spa Creek Bridge, "Maritime Republic of Eastport" and Annapolis

Why: Fundraiser to include contests, live music, food, a Texas chili cook-off and children's activities.

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