A 'kinder, gentler spin' on sock-burning ritual

New pairs for needy tossed into sail boat at Inner Harbor

March 21, 2010|By Rob Kasper

Encouraged by bright sun and 70-degree temperatures, Marylanders shed socks Saturday to celebrate the first day of spring.

In keeping with a 30-year tradition, sailors at the Eastport Yacht Club in Annapolis burned their socks at a waterside gathering.

"We got about 375 people, and they are tossing in their socks. One fellow even tossed in his jeans," Susan Nahmias, a member of the club, reported by phone as she watched the proceedings.

"It is a fun way to say spring is here," explained Fred Hecklinger a founder of the yacht club.

Meanwhile at the docks of the Downtown Sailing Center in the Inner Harbor, sailors put a twist on the tradition and donated pairs of new socks to the Helping Up Mission in East Baltimore. More than 700 pairs of new socks that would later be donated were tossed in one of the club's sail boats.

"We always need socks," said Barry Burnett, director of the East Baltimore Street mission which cares for 400 men who are poor or homeless. Each time a new man enters the mission, he is given several pairs of socks, Burnett said. Some men from the mission were on hand at the Inner Harbor.

Allie Robinson, deputy director of youth outreach programs for the center, said the club made the switch in sock rituals "to do something to help people and celebrate spring at the same time."

The news that there would be no sock-burning disappointed some Baltimore sailors, Robinson said. To alleviate their frustrations, she built a pinata shaped like a sock, and stuffed it with candy.

"They can 'sock' the pinata," Robinson said.

Alicia Tyrell, a sailing instructor at the Baltimore center, had participated in sock-burnings in other years in Annapolis.

"There is something to be said for kicking off your socks," she said. "But this is less pyromaniacy, and a kinder, gentler spin on socks."

In Eastport, the hosiery was incinerated Saturday afternoon in a large heated tub, Nahmias said.

According to Annapolis lore, the sock-burning practice was initiated in the late 1980s by Bob Turner, then the manager of the Annapolis Yacht Yard. In a telephone conversation Friday, Hecklinger recounted the oft-told story of the origin of the ritual.

Turner had spent a long, difficult winter repairing other people's boats, Hecklinger said.

To welcome the first day of spring, and relieve some of his frustrations, Turner took off his socks, put them in a paint tray, doused them with lighter fluid and set them ablaze. He toasted the arrival of spring with a cold beverage.

Over the years, the sock-burning and toasting activities have spread from Annapolis to boatyards around the nation.

One sailing magazine, SpinSheet, has even printed step-by-step advice to novice burners.

"Have someone say a few words about spring or sailing ... or not, " SpinSheet recommended "One by one, drop your socks into the fire in a slow, orderly procession," the magazine continued, "until all of your ankles are cold. Then go home."

The farewell to winter is especially poignant this year, Hecklinger said.

Noting that Maryland was hit with record snowfall this winter, Hecklinger said that in the view of the sock-burners, the bad weather occurred "because not enough people burned their socks last spring."

Back at the Inner Harbor, Carolyn Brownley sat in sunshine. She was not far from the sail boat filled with donated socks.

And she was sockless.

"I took them off three days ago," she said. "I am not going to put them back on until the end of October."

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