Annapolis takes back the tug

It came down to the final round of the world's longest tug-of-war over water, but the city of Annapolis delivered Saturday on its vow to save face against rival Eastport and win the annual match billed as the "Slaughter Across the Water."

As supporters screamed, "Tug! Tug! Tug!" 33 men and women strained to pull a thick rope and hold their ground as if their lives — not just bragging rights — depended on it. From the Annapolis side of Spa Creek, they faced off against the Eastport team, barely visible more than 1,600 feet away on the opposite shore.

Wendy Easterling, an emergency room nurse at Anne Arundel Medical Center tugging for Annapolis, was left short of breath and wobbly but glad to join her hospital colleagues for an event that has raised more than a quarter-million dollars for area charities. And contributing to an Annapolis win, just the third in 15 years, made the victory even sweeter, she said.

"It's a great feeling," Easterling said. "We can do it."

The event dates back to 1998, when the bridge connecting Eastport to Annapolis was closed for construction for three weeks and, in a marketing ploy, Eastport business people formed the faux Maritime Republic of Eastport. Staging a "secession" from Annapolis spurred a number of annual events to bring attention to Eastport, such as the MRE's annual march into City Hall to declare war on "Annapolis Proper."

For years, Eastport has been more motivated and better organized when it comes to the tug, mostly winning and always throwing a better-attended party with bands, food and activities.

This year, that all changed. Annapolis vowed to erase memories of past dismal performances. MainStreets Annapolis Partnership organized the party at Susan Campbell Park at City Dock, putting together teams, securing sponsors and getting food and liquor licenses. Main Street business Red, Red Wine sold wine and beer from a truck. The Walking Sticks played covers of the B-52's and Rolling Stones. And a team of U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen, recruited this year by Mayor Joshua Cohen, stood at the ready to square off against Eastport's U.S. Army team.

Asked before the match what his team did to prepare, Chris Gallardo, a senior midshipman from San Diego, said, "We didn't do anything, just showed up. We're relying on brawn."

That strategy worked. In seven rounds, using a custom-made rope that stretched across the creek, bankers battled bankers, sports fans battled sports fans, and the city police force battled the fire department.

Savy Welch, a Washington resident visiting Annapolis with her husband and father-in-law, heard about the event at the visitors center. Asked during the Army/Navy round who she supported, she shrugged and said, "When in Rome … root for Navy."

WRNR disc jockeys stationed on each side of the water kept up banter that blared through speakers. From his post in the parking lot of the Chart House restaurant in Eastport, Rick Fisher encouraged revelers to "give a round of applause for the losers," on the Annapolis side. Donielle Flynn, another WRNR DJ, threw it right back, pointing to the "Eastport defectors" disembarking from a water taxi at City Dock.

After the final, decisive round, Marie Dall'Acqua, an organizer with the city's Take-Back-The-Tug campaign, said Annapolis can hold up its head once more.

"The whole thing was taking back the tug and bragging rights," Dall'Acqua said. "And next year will be bigger and better."

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