Spring Sock Burning — An Annapolis Tradition

Spring Sock Burning — an Annapolis Boatyard Tradition – But How Did It Begin?

In the Annapolis area, it is a widespread tradition that local boatyard workers tend to start wearing their boatyard shoes without socks beginning with the first warm days of spring. Allowances are made on days when temperatures dip below 30℉ or winds top 17 knots.  But how did all this sockless stuff begin?

As Maritime Museum Director Emeritus, and now West/Rhode Riverkeeper, Jeff Holland, recounts, the tradition began around 1978, “thanks to Bob Turner, former manager of the Annapolis Yacht Yard. He spent winters working on ‘OPBs’ – other peoples’ boats.” At winter’s end, Turner found himself encumbered with crusty old socks, generally well laden with a variety of residual debris, dried varnishes, and fiberglass goop.

One day — coincidentally, the spring equinox — in a symbolic act of irreverence, Bob shed his noxious woolen socks, and ambled out onto a pier. With a flat paint-roller tray in hand, he put the old socks in, doused them with lighter fluid, and tossed in a match. This rebellious act could be seen –and smelled — for quite a ways around. The event caught on. The Capital-Gazette quoted Bob Turner in 1992, “If you’ve got ’em, smoke ’em.  But come early so you can get a good seat upwind. We’ll light a fire and have a friendly brew or two and say farewell to winter.” The rest is history.

The tradition has continued at area boatyards, and we hear it has expanded up and down the east coast. And, a few years ago, Annapolis Maritime Museum added a new dimension. A barrel of oysters, a shucking knife, and a couple lively bands have been added to the festivities and it has developed into a popular annual fundraiser for the local Museum.