In tug-of-war with Eastport, Annapolis puts muscle behind the party

Staff writer

The City of Annapolis and the Maritime Republic of Eastport go to war once each year.

Tug of war, that is.

But ever since the first Slaughter Across the Water two decades ago, Eastport has reigned supreme — in rope pulling and partying.

After Eastport triumphed in 2017, Annapolis businessman John O’Leary decided he’d had enough. So the professional event organizer got to work.

“In the past (Annapolis) had a small stage over there and they had a couple of high school bands, which were great,” said O’Leary, his eyes scanning Susan B. Campbell Park at the end of City Dock. “But we’re changing things up.”

Come Saturday, Nov. 3, the quaint brick park overlooking Ego Alley, Annapolis Harbor and the Severn River will have undergone something of a transformation.

“Over here we’re going to have a kids area, face painting and a miniature tug,” said O’Leary, president of Naptown Events, the group responsible for the hugely successful St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

He’s lined up a litany of sponsors and vendors. Looney Bin BBQ from Gambrills, founded by Streetbike Tommy from MTV’s “Nitro Circus,” will bring its unique flavor. Annapolis Market House is doing oysters and wine. From McGarvey's Saloon & Oyster Bar, it’s red beans and rice and Irish coffee shooters. A selection of beer trucks will also set up shop.

“We’re putting a huge stage here,” O’Leary said, gesturing toward the segment of park adjacent Ego Alley. The performers will face the soon-to-depart National Sailing Hall of Fame.

The event will employ tents and heaters in case of unfavorable conditions. The Chesapeake Bayhawks, title sponsor of the event, will have a VIP area akin to the one they set up on field level at each of their Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium home games.

O’Leary’s drive, paired with Mayor Gavin Buckley’s affinity to promote such occasions, may make for an event that could change the Annapolis team’s tugging fate, said city spokeswoman Susan O’Brien. “Annapolis always has great teams, but hasn’t had a party like Eastport.”

Secessionist roots

Following the closure of the Spa Creek Bridge, which connects Annapolis and Eastport, in 1997, “the somewhat fractious citizens of Eastport, feeling the sting of rejection by the city and, perhaps, somewhat emboldened by the generous pouring habits of a local bartender, decided to declare war against The City of Annapolis and secede,” and so began the tug off, reads the website of the nonprofit Maritime Republic of Eastport.

Kevin Brooks — and his band the Eastport Oyster Boys — have participated every year but one since 1998. Eastport lost the year he and the band couldn’t attend. The Oyster Boys’ attendance has been mandated since the defeat.

He’s also been around since the inaugural organizers secured the holy grail: a 1,700-foot rope that can stretch across Spa Creek. It’s big — like thousands of pounds big. And it’s expensive. Brooks and others estimate that it’s worth $40,000. As such it’s stored in a secret place, the location of which few know.

The guys who bought the rope from Yale Cordage got a sweet deal, Brooks remembered. “But no monetary value can ever touch what it means to the spirits, people and Labrador retrievers of Eastport.”

Eastport holds the advantage, having won 13 tugs to Annapolis’ seven. As such, the waterfront community has developed a playful arrogance as it relates to this competition, which Collins calls the “Best talkin’ trash story in the fall.”

“We’ve won the majority of ‘em,” Brooks said. “But we allow the folks in ‘Westport’ to win every now and then.”

Eastport-O-Ricans, as they’ve dubbed themselves, have alternative names for Annapolis landmarks. The Annapolis Harbor is the “Gulf of Eastport” as far as they’re concerned.

Put your muscles where your mouth is

O’Leary’s lined up some maulers, including Midshipmen and professional athletes.

Bayhawks players Nick Mannis, an Annapolis native, and Colin Heacock, of Catonsville, will represent the organization on the rope. It’s offseason for pro lax, but both athletes told The Capital they’ve remained fit. Neither have attended the event before, though Mannis went to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade O’Leary organized and called it a blast.

“I got some experience back in elementary school, so hopefully I can bring some of that to the table,” Heacock said. “I think my workouts and conditioning will pay off.

“Hopefully we can get the W.”

The Maritime Republic welcomes the challenge. But it’s not too concerned, considering its past conquests in what both parties claim to be the longest tug of war over water in the world — though they’re still seeking “Guinness Book of World Records” recognition.

Brett Cureton, “premier” of Eastport, acknowledged the potential strength of the Annapolis side. He’s going to exercise more scrutiny in selecting his squad. “We’re not worried,” he proclaimed.

Annapolis and Eastport get seven teams each, with 33 tuggers per round.

“We’re looking and stacking our teams accordingly,” Cureton said.

Cureton also said he’s thrilled O’Leary’s taking a leadership role on the Annapolis side considering he and other Eastport leadership have been organizing the entire event for 20 years. He lauded the Naptown Events president for hosting some of the best parties city-wide.

“(O’Leary’s) got a lot of connections in this city and has the ability to put on a great event,” Cureton said, adding that the Maritime party might lose some curious patrons who water-taxi across the “gulf.”

A principle both sides agree upon

The annual tug of war is about friendly rivalries, trash talk, beer-filled bellies — the list goes on. Each side might prioritize different parts.

But they both agree it’s about charity. Proceeds from the Eastoport events are donated to local causes — about $750,000 to date, Cureton said.

This year Annapolis is supporting Team Rubicon, an organization that pairs the skills of military veterans with those of first responders in disaster relief. O’Leary, a member, said he was just with the team on the Gulf Coast of Florida, where Hurricane Michael wreaked havoc.

A fun, competitive event for a good cause. Time to tug.

If you go

Annapolis

Saturday at City Dock, 1 Dock St.

Party starts at 11 a.m.; first tug at noon

Free, or $75 for VIP access

naptownevents.com/tug

Eastport

Saturday on Eastport’s 2nd Street

Tugger registration at 10:45 a.m.; first tug at noon

Free

themre.org/tug-of-war

alex.mann@carrollcountytimes.com

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