I think it was Woody Allen, or one of his characters, who said that there are two types of people in this world: those who like Neil Diamond and those who do not (I'm among the former). On the oceans, tradition holds that there are two types of sailors: those who've crossed the equator and those who have not. Unlike the Neil Diamond distinction, the sailors' equator distinction includes labels: trusty shellbacks have crossed, slimy polliwogs have not.
At about 10:20 p.m. last night, May 3, 2015, Del Viento sailed across the line into the Southern Hemisphere and all four of us transitioned from slimy polliwog to trusty shellbacks--and not without ceremony.
Since at least the early 1800s, mariners have turned the line crossing occasion into an initiation rite. Hazing is probably a better description. Stories of line crossing ceremonies include accounts of shellbacks forcing polliwog to climb through large tubs of rotting garbage, crawl around on hands and knees aboard non-skid coated decks, eat food slopped onto said decks, and kiss the axel grease-coated belly button of a designated shellback. Historically, polliwogs have been locked in water coffins, pelted with rotting fruit, beaten with boards and wet ropes, and drug behind the ship. Then the battered sailor is awarded a certificate proclaiming their status as shellback.
Remember the boat Darwin sailed aboard, the HMS Beagle? I don't know the details of the line crossing ceremonies held on the Beagle, but I know her captain, Robert Fitzroy, thought the ceremony beneficial to morale. "The disagreeable practice alluded to has been permitted in most ships, because sanctioned by time; and though many condemn it as an absurd and dangerous piece of folly, it has also many advocates. Perhaps it is one of those amusements, of which the omission might be regretted. Its effects on the minds of those engaged in preparing for its mummeries, who enjoy it at the time, and talk of it long afterwards, cannot easily be judged of without being an eye-witness."
As on most cruising sailboats these days, our line crossing ceremony on Del Viento last night was a rather pleasant affair. As we had no shellbacks to officiate, I stepped up as the elder polliwog and indoctrinated Windy, Eleanor, and Frances, in turn. In each case, sitting in the cockpit under a full moon on a warm tropical night under sail, I proclaimed they'd spent their entire life in the northern hemisphere but that now, having crossed the equator into the southern hemisphere aboard this sailing vessel, the status of shellback is hereby conferred upon them. Each was then handed a shot of rum from which they were instructed to drink their fill before offering the rest to Neptune. (The girls were very generous in their offerings to Neptune; "Yuck, it tastes like mouthwash!"). Then Windy inducted me.
Today we're enjoying celebratory brownies and movies as we get closer and closer to making landfall.
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