CROSSING THE EQUATOR
 
POLLYWOGS
TO 
SHELLBACKS

The equator is the only line on the Earth's surface that is considered a great circle. This is defined as any circle drawn on a sphere (or an oblate spheroid) with a center that includes the center of that sphere. The equator thus qualifies as a great circle because it passes through the exact center of the Earth and divides it in half. 

As most of you know – there is an old mariner’s tradition for those landlubbers crossing the equator by sea for the first time. This is known in seagoing traditions as ‘Crossing the Line’ or the ‘Order of Neptune’. An initiation ritual takes place for all those ‘first-timers’ and is usually performed at Latitude 00 known as the Equator by the ships senior staff and Officers.

Our Earth is a roundish planet. In order to map it, geographers overlay grid of lines of latitude and longitude. Latitudinal lines wrap around the planet from east to west, while longitude lines go from north to south.

The equator is an imaginary line that runs from east to west on Earth's surface and is exactly halfway between the north and south poles (the northernmost and southernmost points on the Earth). It also divides the Earth into the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere and is an important line of latitude for navigational purposes. It is at 0° latitude, and all other measurements head north or south from it. The poles are at 90 degrees north and south. For reference, the corresponding line of longitude is the prime meridian.

HISTORY

The ceremony itself is said to go back at least 400 years (according to most written records) and it is considered a high honor to make the transition from Pollywog to Shellback. 

  • A Pollywog [aka: wog] – refers to a seaman who hasn’t crossed the equator. They have also been referred to as a ‘slimy’ Pollywog.

  • A Shellback [aka: Son or Daughter of Neptune] – is a seaman who has proved themselves seaworthy and now a member of King Neptune's Royal Court.

It is said that when a ship crosses the equator, King Neptune comes aboard the ships to exercise authority over ‘His domain’ and to judge charges brought against Pollywogs that they are only posing as sailors and haven’t paid proper homage to the God of the Sea

There are several stories and, as many, variations of the ‘initiation ritual’ of those aboard Navy ships. As ‘first-timers’, every Officer, all the way down to the lowest of the Seamen, not previously initiated must crawl through garbage and perform tasks in order to kiss King Neptune’s belly. King Neptune was often ‘the Captain’ of the ship. However, the Captain would often pick a Deputy [or Deputies] from the King’s Court to assist him with the initiations. A Deputy was usually the grossest, the biggest potbellied sailor on the ship.  

 

Sometimes, when a civilian/commercial cruise ship crosses the equator the cruiselines Cruise Director may - [not guaranteed] - offer its passengers the ability to partake in this seagoing tradition for passengers’ entertainment.  An announcement by the staff, on the ship’s TV channel and/or in the ship’s newsletters will offer a sign-up list for guests whom want to participate. The rest of the ship’s guests whom do not want to partake will stand around and watch the ceremony laughing crazy wild at the antics. The ‘Kings Court’ usually dresses up in funny, unique and gaudy attire on the Lido deck with all its pomp and circumstance, to greet you.

In going before, and bowing, to the ‘Kings Court’ it is a bit difficult to tell you what will happen and what to wear [and what not to wear] in front of all the gazing non-participating guests for such an event; but one thing is for sure it will get dirty, messy and/or wet so take off that nice watch, don’t wear something you planned on wearing somewhere specific because, if you don’t plan on doing laundry, you may not be able to wear it again and…Warning Women --- Do Not wear white shirts because if you get thrown into the pool you will come out giving everyone another show!

The initiation process [if offered] is different for each voyage in that some will use the imitation tools of a pool, uneaten dry tossed salad, spaghetti, raw veggie’s, dairy products such as whipped cream, wiggly jiggly jello and various other foods which results in a big mess and lots of hysterical laughs.

Usually after the initiation ceremony those guests who did participate in the ship’s ceremony received from the Captain a signed certificate declaring they are now transformed from ‘Pollywogs’ and become exclusive club members called ‘Shellbacks’.

*NOTE: even if you don’t participate in a ship’s ritual - or it is, unfortunately, NOT offered by your cruise director - you are still considered a ‘Shellback’ as very few people in this world make that crossing.

Of course, each cruise lines, and each voyage, that crosses the equator is different and we cannot determine, if your sailing will offer this FUN and exciting ceremony until you board your ship and the announcement is made.

FACTOID:

“Other Slang Jargon for Worldly Travelers”

  • You cross the Equator on a ship you are a Shellback.

  • The Golden Shellback for those who have crossed the point where the Equator crosses the International Date Line.

  • The Golden Dragon for those who have crossed the International Date Line.

  • Emerald Shellback or Royal Diamond Shellback for those who cross the Equator at the prime meridian.

  • If you cross the Arctic Circle (Domain of the Polar Bear) you are a Blue Nose.

  • If you cross the Antarctic Circle you are a Red Nose.

  • The ’Order of the Ditch’ for those who have passed through the Panama Canal. 

  • You are an Ebony Shellback if you have crossed the Equator on Lake Victoria in Africa.

  • Known as the ‘Rock’ if you have transited the Strait of Gibraltar.

  • If you pass through the Suez Canal you are a ‘Safari to Suez’.

  • Sand Squid’s are for those who have been attached to units, or stationed, in the Middle East.

  • For those whom have sailed on all 5 Great Lakes you have the badge of being called ‘The Order of the Lakes.’

  • The ‘Spanish Main’ for those whom have sailed in the Caribbean.

  • The ‘Sparrow’ is held for those who have sailed on all seven seas. (North Atlantic, South Atlantic, North Pacific, South Pacific, Indian, Arctic, Antarctic Oceans)

  • The Realm of the Czars for those who crossed into the Black Sea.

  • A Magellan for those who circumnavigated the Earth.

  • Magellan's Strait Jacket Club for those who transited the Straits of Macella.

  • Moss Back is someone who has sailed around the tip of South America.

  • Purple Porpoises for those who crossed the junction of the Equator and the International Date Line at the Sacred Hour of the Vernal Equinox.

  • Red Nose (Domain of the Penguin) for those who have crossed the Antarctic Circle.

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