Governor Wes Moore throws a pair of socks into a fire pit on the Beach
Maryland Governor Wes Moore throws his socks in the flames as he attends an Oyster Roast and Sock Burning event hosted by the Annapolis Maritime Museum & Park. The annual tradition marks the start to spring for sailors throughout the Chesapeake region. (Photo by Anthony DePanise/Maryland Office of the Governor)

After a cold, long winter in the Chesapeake Bay region, boaters are excited to get back out on the water. What better way to show that excitement than burning your socks and having an oyster roast?

Back in 1987, after a particularly cold and snowy winter, Annapolis native Bob Turner was over the winter and ready for the sailing season. He invited his colleagues and friends over after work to burn their socks and vow to not put any on again until next winter. Now, almost 40 years later, the sailing community tradition has spread to many waterfront towns across the Bay.

This tradition is celebrated every year on the week of the Vernal Equinox, which marks the official start of spring, and more importantly, the start to the boating season. Although throwing your socks in a heap of flames is celebration enough, the festivities don’t end there. Many different maritime associations such as the Annapolis Maritime Museum & Park and York River Yacht Club have oyster roasts to go along with the sock roast where there is fresh seafood and drinks to indulge in.

While these annual festivities are typically ticketed events that often sell out, the occasion is most important as a symbolic announcement to all sailing communities in the area that the season is starting, and fortunately, the Chesapeake Bay region is home to quite a few sailing communities working to increase the diversity and accessibility of the sport.

One example is the Universal Sailing Club. Founded by Marcus Asante and Michael Campbell in 2001, the boating community is based out of Baltimore, Maryland and aims to make the sport more inclusive for Black people living in the area. Through having Black captains, crew and boat owners, the club has created a safe space for Black people to explore the sailing community, something that Asante had wished for when he began sailing in the late 1990s.

Women on Water, which is part of the Pentagon Sailing Club, is another local sailing group focused on increasing the diversity of the sport. As a community of women that helps other women get into sailing, the group hosts sailing outings 2-3 times a month and has events, panels and meet and greets that ease new members into their community.

Yet another local organization focused on accessibility and equity is the Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (CRAB) Program. Founded in 1991, this group provides access to sailing for those with disabilities or are recovering from serious injuries, as well as youth from underserved communities. The group got its start after Annapolis local Don Backe was paralyzed in a car accident in 1989, and all he wanted to do during his recovery was return to the water. After his friends rallied around him to find new ways for him to set sail, Backe decided he would dedicate his life to helping others have access to sailing.

Boaters in the Bay region are lucky to be able to set sail in an area with such rich maritime history and culture, shaped by Native Americans, colonists and watermen through hundreds of years.

Sailing throughout the watershed provides access points to many different areas booming with maritime history, such as Downtown Annapolis, the Baltimore Inner Harbor and the James River, all of which have been used as ports for trade and commerce over the years.

Although not every group in the Bay region hosts its own sock burning festivities, they are all able to come together during the season to do what they love— sailing and enjoying the unique setting that is the Chesapeake Bay.

Do you have a story about how you first got into sailing or a club you want to highlight? Let us know in the comments!



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