by Lorraine Eaton
It’s February, and thousands of local sailors are feeling constrained – both by the limitations of a landlocked life and by a piece of common clothing.
But right around the spring equinox, we’ll gather at yacht clubs, marinas and sail lofts from Norfolk to Annapolis to partake in a Chesapeake Bay tradition that signals winter’s end and the beginning of a new sailing season: sock bonfires.
The shenanigans started in 1978, in the wake of a snowy Annapolis winter, when boatbuilder Bob Turner stripped off his pair and burned them, inviting his fellow workers to do the same. Us boaters, we do love a party, and more than 40 years later, the tradition has spread to Alabama, New England, the Pacific Northwest and even landlocked Pennsylvania.
Sometimes the events feature great oration and other times we just toss the socks in on the way to the bar. Some are fundraisers; some plain old fun. Occasionally, oysters are involved.
I’ve been constrained since December, when I eased my catamaran Watch This! into a high-walled concrete slip barely wide enough to hold her. I had stretched out the sailing season as far as I could, hoping for a few fall days with wind and warmth and without the Chesapeake Bay’s infamous square waves – when the height and the interval are equal.
This was one of them, but instead of sailing west and into the Bay, it was my turn to ease east and into the slings of a travel lift, an apparatus that hoisted my boat up and out of the water and then transported her ever so slowly across a parking lot, over some railroad tracks and into a boatyard where she’s been spending the winter “on the hard.”
I’ve been shipwrecked in my living room ever since, an archipelago of charts, boating magazines and parts catalogues strewn across my ottoman, waiting out the winter. Right now, there’s a whole universe of stranded sailors in Tidewater. Some, like me, grew up gripping a tiller. For others, water lust came later in life.
Our winter plight is evident in marinas where bare-masted boats loll in their slips. Along the Bay and Atlantic Ocean beaches, Hobie cats hunker in sand dunes. Boatyards are tiled with vessels undergoing repairs in anticipation of a new season.
For now, though, we’re stranded indoors and dreaming of regattas, nights at anchor, dock parties and sundowners, imagining the spring day when we head back out on the Bay, the thwack of wind as it fills the mainsail, water wooshing along the hull and the sun and the wind in our faces. And, of course, no socks.