Pollywog to Shellback

So in case you didn’t know, the French Polynesian Islands (the ones we’re currently sailing through- yeah, be jealous) are south of the Equator.  And apparently crossing that line (which I would like to point out is IMAGINARY) is a big deal.  Ya’ll, there’s a ceremony.

Somehow, everyone except me knew about this.  I must have been absent that day in school.  I heard about what happens when you cross the Equator for the first time a few months into my first contract working on the ship.  And then I heard more about it when I boarded this ship, since we crossed during this cruise. I’m not sure of the exact origins of this ceremony (and by “not sure” I mean, I haven’t even taken the time to truly skim the Wikipedia article, but I will tell you how we typically interpret it on a cruise ship), except that it’s sort of an initiation rite for sailors.  I think the idea is that if you haven’t crossed the Equator, that you’re not very experienced, and so you must be tormented.  You know, typical frat house, brotherhood, secret society type stuff.

My dad e-mailed me prior to our crossing and said “have fun, but don’t shave your head.  Oh wait, that’s just in the Navy.” Oh don’t worry, dad, they had something much better for us.  (and, for the record, apparently- well according to some passengers who had been in the Navy- it’s not just shaving your head… they didn’t go into much detail, but it didn’t sound fun…).  The crossing of the Equator is often commemorated on cruise ships and other civilian ocean liners as entertainment for the passengers.  You know… torment, entertainment.  Potato, tomato (name that movie!).

SO here’s the legend. Well, my version of it.  When you cross the Equator you are encroaching upon King Neptune’s (god of the Ocean, Poseidon, or what have you) territory.  So you need to do a couple of things: 1) acknowledge his presence, 2) Give sacrifices to ensure a safe passage, 3) Generally make him happy (which apparently includes tormenting those who have yet to cross… I’m not really sure how that helps, but it does).  In order to abide by his rules we held a ceremony.  During that ceremony, anyone who had not crossed (called a polliwog) is “tied up” and brought before King Neptune to account for their “crimes.”  A prosecutor reads out each polliwog’s crimes, and then to account for our crimes (and this is where things really get fuzzy) the polliwog’s must kiss a fish, and then be treated by doctors and nurses.  It’s kind of like surgery?  Maybe they’re removing our crimes from us?  I’m really not sure.  Then after being “treated” we must stand before the Ship’s Staff Officers (Captain, Chief Officer, etc.) to face our judgment, and we will either survive or be killed.

In the midst of all that there are some pirates.DSCN1970 (2)
Got it?  Ok, well how did this play out on our ship?  Anyone who has crossed the Equator before (called a shellback, or sometimes a son of Neptune) plays a part in the ceremony, dressing up as King Neptune, the prosecutor, a doctor or a nurse, or as a pirate.  The Polliwogs were tied to a rope and brought before the guests and of course the prosecutor and King Neptune and the Ship’s Staff Officers on the back deck around the pool.  Just a note though; not every true polliwog of the crew had to go through the ceremony. They typically pick people who are out in front of guests (entertainment, front office staff, etc.) because it’s fun for the guests to see familiar faces going through the ceremony. But they always have younger officers and/or cadets (officers/engineers in training) do it as well as they are truly still in an initiation process.
Top 2 photos: all the guests seated to watch King Neptune seal our fate.  Bottom 2 photos: The polliwogs get led out to court.
Anyway, the pirates pull us along as we’re all tied together, and generally yell at us and parade us around the pool.  Then they put us under a net, and throw ice water on us.  Fun.
The pirates put the polliwogs in the net.  At right, you can see the prosecutor.
The pirates gather water from the pool.  They’ll mix it with ice before they throw it on the polliwogs.

Oh, and if this isn’t mixed up enough for you, a band of pirates is playing to accompany this march… they’re playing the theme for Darth Vader… um, this is the ocean, not a galaxy far far away, but whatever.

So then the prosecutor comes out, introduces the Ship’s Staff Officers,
and then everyone arises for King Neptune and his Queen ( a mermaid, naturally) enter and take their place (and they enter to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance, however inappropriate…).
Then the Prosecutor calls up a group of Polliwog’s and introduces us to the court.  He names us and our function and then reads off our crime.
As our crimes are being read.  By the time my crimes were read I had already been doused several times with ice water…

There were a lot of funny crimes.  my favorite was our HR clerk… he had “taken promotion papers and thrown them down the stairs.  Whoever’s paper landed the farthest was promoted to captain.” After your crime is read, you must kiss the fish and then go before the Doctors and the Nurses.
DSCN1931 (2)
Yes, I kissed this fish.

This is where it gets fun.  They have a line of tables and you climb up and lay down as the doctors and nurses push you down the assembly line and cover you in… food.  Nacho cheese, blue and green spaghetti noodles, teal and pink merengue, lettuce, and some sort
of tomato sauce. DSCN1963
I’m pretty sure I’m telling my co-workers that at that moment I hate them…
Then you stand before the Officers.  Thumbs up means you live.  Thumbs down means you die or drown.  But if you live, you get to sit out in the hot sun and “bake” wearing all that glorious gunk.  If you die, you jump in the pool.

I was very glad to jump in the pool… even though it was already filled with all that disgusting stuff.

So how was it?  Well, I’m glad I’m now a shellback, and if I ever do cross again, I won’t be subjected to it again.  I wasn’t very happy to do it, but it was quite funny afterward and now I have a good story.  And pictures as well.
DSCN1968 Fuse
We do weird things out here at sea.  I mean, a captain can marry people if he likes.  We like ceremony and commemorating imaginary things.  But hey, it’s a story.  I like a good story.

Ever crossed the equator?


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