Ahhhh, it's spring again. Already, area boatyards are alive with activity.

The air is filled with the whine and clatter of power toolsand air compressors, and redolent with the pungent tang of solvents,varnish, and paint.

To mark the beginning of the season, we were privileged to share a unique vernal maritime ritual the other day conducted by Bob Turner of Annapolis Harbor Boatyard at Yacht Haven in Eastport.

It was Turner's annual Sock-Burning Ceremony, a rite he says goes back about 15 years, and one that is slowly but steadily gaining popularity in the maritime community.

Turner explained that since he officially stops wearing socks each year on the first day of spring, and doesn't put them on again until Dec. 21, the first day of winter, he felt that the long sockless period needed to be marked by something more momentous than merely putting them away.

Turner's seasonal socklessness, something shared by most marine professionals and sailors, dates to his employment at Proctor Masts, he said.

"When you stand in front of a mast drilling holes, it's pretty easy to just dump the aluminum shavings out of your shoes every once in a while.

But when you have socks on, the little aluminum shavings get in there and just burrow in deeper and deeper. But it's a matter of principal now."

He added that although he never wavered, the spring-winter dates sometimes meant he had to walk sockless through snow around Thanksgiving.

A small, congenial crowd gathered near sunset at the end of "C" Dock, under pleasantly warm, clear skies, to enjoy some refreshments and watch. Turner, with fitting regard and solemnity, ignited a couple ofpairs of socks lying in a makeshift hibachi constructed of a paint roller tray and cinder blocks.

As the flames grew and then began tofade, others added their offerings to the pyre, renewing the blaze. New arrivals were pressed to take off their socks and add them to thefire. Although one or two managed to resist, most acquiesced, including one young man wearing -- and sacrificing -- a new pair, to applause and cheers. Maybe it was peer pressure, maybe the beer, or maybe it was simply the spirit of the event.

"Last year it snowed when wewere doing this," Turner said, "but we had enough socks to generate some heat and keep warm."

Toasts were raised to spring itself, andto other important seasonal factors.

"It's a little-known fact that spring actually was invented in Annapolis, right here in Eastport," Turner said.

Standing in the dying light of a beautiful day on that dock overlooking Annapolis Harbor, in good company and a quietly festive mood, it was easy to believe him.


On a more serious note, spring also means the beginning of the pollution season on the Chesapeake Bay.

To help boaters better understand what they can do to reduce their negative impact on the bay's delicate ecosystem, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation recently released "Your Boat and the Bay," its newest addition to the homeowner series of informational pamphlets.

The helpful, comprehensive and easily understood booklet deals with obvious topics such as Marine Sanitation Devices (heads), anti-fouling paints and litter. It also has helpful sections on less obvious sources of damage to the bay, such as wakes and waves, boat cleaners and engine maintenance for both inboard and outboard motors. It includes a list of sources for more information, too, including a special list for pump-out facilities.

To receive the free booklet, call or write the CBF, 162 Prince George St., Annapolis 21401, 268-8816.

If that seems like too much trouble, then please try to remember the following:

* Keep sewage out of the water by using your holding tank or "portapotty" and onshore pumping stations. Keep your boat's sanitary system in working order and use shoreside facilities when docked.

* Obey the law on TBT-based bottom paints. Take precautions when scraping or sanding your boat, such as putting down a drop cloth to catch the residue and get it into the trash, rather than into the ground water or the bay. Dispose of all leftovers, old brushes and cleaners carefully.

* Don't throw anything overboard, including cansand biodegradable food waste, and don't let anyone else on your boatdo it. CBF recommends having a garbage can on board, as well as being a good Samaritan and collecting other people's refuse when you can for proper disposal. Switch to reusable cups and plates to discouragedumping plastic overboard. Consider using trash that accidentally blows overboard as an opportunity for a "man overboard" drill by going back and picking it up. Obey the Marpol Treaty regulations, post yourplacard if applicable and stay informed of the rules.

* Make an effort to reduce your dependence on harsh chemical cleaners, bleaches,polishes, etc. and try switching as much as possible to biodegradable detergents without phosphates and chlorine and a scrub brush. CBF points out that chemical teak cleaners, for example, are very hard on wood and gelcoat, so switching to mild soap powder and steel wool actually will do the boat a favor, too. If you must use chemicals while the boat is in the water, plug the scuppers and wipe up spills and residues, instead of washing them overboard. Buy only as much paint, varnish, thinner or cleaner as you will use in a year to avoid having to dispose of stale products. Learn how to dispose of these things responsibly.

* Keep your engine or outboard in top working condition to ensure efficient fuel use, and inspect your fuel lines regularly to make sure they aren't mushy, rotted, or leaking. With inboard engines, be careful draining antifreeze and changing oil, collect these fluids for recycling and wipe up spills immediately. Avoid the temptation to top off gas tanks -- something that often results in overflow spills and small, but toxic, slicks in the water -- and try using a long dipstick to check your gas level instead. Outboard users should use clean-burning premium oils and fuel conditioners. Use a funnel witha filter for filling gas tanks to prevent spills. If the engine doesn't have oil injection, measure carefully, and don't use too much oilin the gasoline mix to keep burning as clean as possible while avoiding engine damage.

Have fun, be safe, and help save our bay out there this season.

* Nancy Noyes is a member of the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association and has been racing on the bay for about five years. Her Sailing column appears every Wednesday and Sunday in The Anne Arundel County Sun.

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