It was a battle supreme by the Chesapeake Bay yesterday. On one side--quaint, upscale downtown Annapolis. On the other side--scrappy, laid-back Eastport, the formerly independent waterfront hamlet that was swallowed up by the capital city in a controversial annexation half a century ago.
And in the middle: one very long tug-of-war rope.
With teams of at least 30 people standing nearly a quarter-mile apart on banks of Spa Creek, the two communities reignited old rivalries in a spectacle of sweat and skinned palms.
"It's for bragging rights!" explained Geoff Ewenson, 29, of Eastport, who strained his arms for one of his neighborhood's five winning teams yesterday. Mainland Annapolis settled for only three victories.
The second annual tug of war was the latest event in which the community has light-heartedly reasserted its independence as the "Maritime Republic of Eastport," and the idea seems to have caught on big in the boat-lined and bar-filled neighborhood of about 4,000 residents.
"Eastport has a very high pride level and has always thought of itself as its own community," said Chris Kellogg, an Eastport resident who organized the "Slaughter Across the Water."
Settled by blue-collar boat builders and watermen more than a century ago, the Eastport peninsula has long been at odds with its more genteel neighbor across the creek. Former Annapolis mayor Alfred A. Hopkins, a native of downtown, remembers teasing the Eastport children who would walk over to the city to go to high school--the smaller burg only had a grammar school.
"We'd say, 'We allowed you to come across the bridge because we felt sorry for you,' " Hopkins, 74, said.
Many Eastport residents were not happy with the vote to annex their community, complaining they gained little more from the deal than the city's higher taxes.
Today, the rivalry that gave Eastport its underdog spirit is little more than a distant memory. With upscale condos raising the property values of its old clapboard houses, Eastport is now home to many affluent newcomers who don't remember the old days or harbor a grudge against Annapolis.
Yet many of the newcomers are cheerfully resparking the old rivalry--this time to create a community spirit lacking in many of Washington's transient suburbs.
"One, two, pull! One, two, pull!"
In front of hundreds of shouting onlookers yesterday, Pat Donovan dug his feet into the ground and yanked hard on the thick rope, face contorted, shoulders grinding to his ears, his body leaning back barely 45 degrees above the Eastport asphalt.
Aided by 32 fellow Eastport men, he was battling a force he could not see--a bunch of guys from the Annapolis Jaycees straining the same way across the mouth of the creek on the City Dock, tugging the same 1,700-foot, 1 1/8-inch-thick rope.
The rope, organizers claim, is the longest and strongest ever custom-made for tug-of-war purposes. With a 50,000-pound breaking point, it is made from the material used in bulletproof vests. Organizers are seeking to have the Annapolis-Eastport contest certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest tug of war across water. Guinness does not now have such a category.
But despite the tantalizing presence of 58-degree water, it remained a safety-first event: No team was allowed to pull another into the creek. Instead, each losing side designated a volunteer to take a ceremonial plunge.
With a final collective grunt, Donovan and his Eastport compatriots eventually gained the crucial momentum. The rope went slack in victory, and the "M-R-E!" chant began.
Did they train hard? Oh, yeah.
"We've been at the bar every night, talking about it," deadpanned Donovan, 31, a commercial diver.
In a way, Donovan was fighting a battle not his own: He moved to Eastport only eight months ago. "But it only takes you eight months to develop pride in this place."
CAPTION: Stacey Keim, left, leads the pulling for an Annapolis team as Michael Hamby, right, coaches during a tug of war with the community across the creek, Eastport.
CAPTION: Stan Bednar, of the U.S. Naval Academy, grimaces during a tug.