Wednesday, May 17, 2006

From Pollywogs to Shellbacks

At 0701 GMT on 17 May 2006 ReVision II crossed the Equator at 88 degrees 50 minutes west.

Information courtesy of Ragtime: Crossing the Line" is nearly as old as seafaring itself; Our modern practice is believed to have evolved from Viking rituals, executed upon crossing the 30th parallel, a tradition that they passed on to the Anglo-Saxons and Normans in Britain.

Early "Crossing the Line" had a fairly serious purpose, however: they were designed to test the novices in the crew to see whether they could endure their first cruise at sea. Ceremonies in the seventeenth century were particularly rough. Today, "Crossing the Line" no longer has such serious undertones, although some of the novice/veteran dichotomy persists in the titles given to those who have and have not been initiated by the rites: those who have crossed the equator are termed "shellbacks" (often called "trusty shellbacks") and those who have not are called "pollywogs" (also rendered "polliwog"). These "slimy" pollywogs (or "wogs" for short) must endure the entire ceremony at the hands of the shellbacks before being accepted into their number.

What does a "Crossing the Line" ceremony entail? Traditionally, the night before King Neptune (the most senior shellback) sends a messenger informing the Captain that he intends to board the ship the following day, and summoning a list of slimy wogs to appear before him. The actual ceremony revolves around the pretext of "preparing" the wogs for their audience before King Neptune. This "preparation" involves any number of disgusting, dirty and deprecating actions. This may include crawling through garbage, eating coloured food, allowing the "Royal Doctor" to squirt foul-tasting liquids into one's mouth, and kissing the "Royal Baby" (the fattest chief on board) on the belly.

The penultimate ritual is a "shaving" by the Royal Barber with a huge wooden "razor," after which one is dunked in a tub of water (often dyed a hideous colour) to "cleanse" oneself for the final meeting with King Neptune. At this meeting, King Neptune appears with his entire retinue, Queen Amphitrite, and Davy Jones and officially proclaims the wogs to be trusty shellbacks. After the trial, the new shellbacks receive elaborate certificates testifying to their safe passage, along with a wallet-sized card to prove the fact on future crossings.

Where do these colourful characters come from? Neptune is the Roman god of the sea, who originated as the god of fresh water but later became associated with the Greek sea god Poseidon. Poseidon was one of three sons of Kronos: Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon were said to have cast lots for the three kingdoms of heaven, underworld, and sea. Neptune generally appears with a trident (a three-pronged spear) and his consort, Queen Amphitrite. Davy Jones has a number of stories concerning his origins. The most common tale is that he is the evil spirit of the sea, whose name came from a corruption of " Duppy Jonah," duppy being the West Indies name for "spirit" or "ghost" and Jonah being the Old Testament prophet who was thrown into the sea.

Aboard ReVision II we had planned to have a disgusting dinner of tinned Duck A'orange (don't ask where we got this or why) although fortunately Andrew caught a fabulous tuna just before sunset and it could not be left in the fridge. Local time of our Crossing the Line was 0201 which meant we had to curtail our ceremony somewhat but we still had fun. As we had no shellbacks on board I took it upon myself to where Andrew's clothes and subject him to the ceremony after waking him at 0100. He was dressed in a skirt, little top and my lama hat, his nails were varnished, his face drawn on and his legs waxed (shaving a little too dangerous with 20 degrees of heel). He was then fed tinned fish worms (courtesy of a Christmas present from the Goolka's - thanks guys - appropriately disgusting). We then sat down to a rum laced hot choc and sped across the equator at 6 knots. I touched the water (we'd hoped to swim but hey we were just pleased to be here) and splashed it upon us. We proclaimed ourselves trusty shellbacks and were very excited to be in the South Pacific.

We hope to arrive in the Galapagos later today - hurray!!


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