Crossing the equator should not be a big deal. This imaginary line is nothing special it only marks the boundaries of the northern and southern hemisphere.
If you pass there, nothing really happens. You don’t get young, turn old, or grow some scales. I remember crossing it with an ice cream in my hand after a nice steak. Guess what day was it!
What happens when you “Cross the Line”?
In the nautical industry, crossing the equator is filled with mystery and fun.
For first-timers, they may find themselves undertaking some challenges. This is the arcane part as they don’t know what they will be going into. But it’s also fun as the crew takes these demands merrily.
Who knows what King Neptune or Poseidon, the “God of the Seas”, has in store for those Polliwogs?
Not all ships may celebrate this but the ones who do are following an age-old tradition practiced for hundreds of years.
We call seafarers who haven’t crossed the Equator as Polliwogs. They are, in this sense, “inexperienced sailors unworthy to sail the seas”.
We don’t always refer to them as cadets. First-timers crossing the equator- either cadets, officers, or ratings, must undergo this ceremony.
Yep, that’s right. We’re just tadpoles in the eyes of the God of the Seas and we appear before him for this special ceremony.
At the time of crossing, the Wogs are summoned into Neptune’s Court to be baptized and be called Trusty Shellbacks or “Sons and Daughters of Neptune”.
With Neptune’s presence are his wife Amphitrite, Davy Jones, and other characters. They are dressed in costumes appropriate to their role, King Neptune being the one giving the verdict.
The Wogs have no choice but to submit to an embarrassing display of punishments.
Baptism is the start of something new. It tells you of rebirth or new beginnings. However, the Rites of Passage (another term for Equatorial Crossing) isn’t your typical water dipping ceremony.
Wogs must do the stupidest things and undergo various tasks which may include being tied with a rope and flushed with a fire hose.
Others put them in a room with food waste for 30 minutes.
In some cases, they make them drink strange concoctions. I was shaved, made to drink something gooey, and then poured with ice-cold water.
I don’t know what that was but it felt so weird in my mouth especially after it ran down my throat.
Meaning of the Rituals
There is a meaning behind every ritual that seafarers undertake.
Splashing with a fire hose symbolizes that if you get sloppy in your job, you’ll have plenty of seawater getting in your ship.
Food waste trial reminds you to keep good hygiene.
Getting tied with a rope and untying it together promotes the spirit of teamwork which is very important onboard.
As for the gooey concoction, it represents cleansing us from within.
As for our ice bath, it symbolizes the cold reality of life at sea. The water is cold and unforgiving, just like the ocean.
The ice bath is a way of toughening us up by cleansing the soul, shedding the old self, and preparing us for the challenges that lie ahead.
My Line Crossing Experience
Even if you have been a seaman for many years already, there will always be a first time. In my case, it was crossing the Equator after 11 years of sailing!
It was fun and very memorable.
Two days before crossing, it started off as a gossip. Everyone on board was talking about the Equatorial Passage.
And since it was the first time for that ship to sail across the Atlantic, most of the crew on board were Wogs.
At 13:00H, we were all summoned to the bridge. We know that the ceremony has started but we don’t know what awaits us.
With ice-cold water buckets in our hands, we were beholden with Poseidon’s presence as he graced us on the Starboard wing. The sun was shining so bright that his crowning glory was magnified tenfold.
His hair was as blue as the deepest ocean and his white beard was like seaweeds touching his bare chest. I like to think of it as a mop.
Wielding the King’s Weapon
In his right hand was his mighty Trident which holds and releases the secrets of the deep. It signifies his dominion over the seas, and with a mighty swing, he gestures towards the equator.
And yes, he has dark shades implying that we, Wogs, are not worthy to gaze into his eyes.
Some say he has no legs and is similar to a fish. But lo and behold, he is riding an alligator- a fierce croc obeying his every whim. Even I was afraid to get near him.
The wind started to gust and you could see the foamy ocean in the background responding to his splendor.
Rites and Ritual
Since we are sloppy Polliwogs, we must be “shaved” from the outside to get rid of every filth that accumulated during our seafaring lives.
Additionally, we must wash ourselves inside and out to be completely reborn.
Shaving our old self
We froze thinking about our fate until King Neptune touched his beard.
“The shaving must commence!”, he roared.
And so, we found ourselves being applied with a strange mud that we should not, under any circumstances, swallow or taste.
They say this mud or “cream” was 500 years old and guarded by the most ferocious sea creatures on the planet.
Even the tiniest invisible hairs were without matched on this cream when using his sacred shaver which touched the faces of millions of sailors already.
We felt cleaned and refreshed already with the first ritual.
Suddenly, we found ourselves face to face with a very strange drink concocted from the deepest parts of the ocean.
It was so gross yet bizarre I can still feel it in my mouth whenever I think of it.
Judging from its taste and texture, it was something like olive oil mixed with alcohol, pepper, and water.
According to legend, this awful-tasting “medicine” changes and purifies us from within.
Washing our old self
After those strange rituals, we knelt giving total respect and submission to King Poseidon.
As we touched our knees on deck, one of his henchmen poured ice-cold water taken from the farthest poles of the earth.
It felt like thousands of needles piercing our skin. I had to inhale as deeply as I could as the supernatural fluid covered my body.
The shaving stripped us of all our old Polliwog ways. The magical drink cleansed us from within. These icy waters from the North and South Poles were the final piece of the baptism.
From Sloppy Polliwogs to Trusty Shellbacks
It was Neptune’s immutable rule that no soul must pass the Equator unbaptized.
After the washing, Poseidon gave us new names that we must use while sailing in the Southern Hemisphere. This is a symbol of rebirth.
Our new name reflects the type of person we are. One had a certificate naming him a “Turtle”. Another was “Octopus”. Others were electric Eel, Mackerel, and “Oil Sardine”.
We were now called Trusty Shellbacks or Sons and Daughters of Neptune.
From our Rusty Woggy life, we transitioned to a life worthy to travel the Seas knowing that King Neptune would always guide us.
Line Crossing Certificates
After all those rituals and rites, King Poseidon gave each of us a certificate. It contained our names and the new aquatic name that we must use whenever we sail in the Southern Hemisphere.
It also contained the name of the ship, its call sign, and the important date of our baptism.
Satisfied with what he had done to us, Poseidon rose and jumped into the sea riding a huge wave.
He disappeared into the deep without any trace.
The good thing was he left us cases of beer and some food that we enjoyed the whole day and night!
Worthy of a tattoo
During the times when nobody gave certificates after completing some feats, sailors who underwent line-crossing ceremonies tattooed a Shellback Turtle somewhere on their arms or legs.
This served as their certificate and superstition as well that Neptune would keep them safe during their sea life.
If you think seafaring is in your blood and you like tattoos so much, you can check out some cool and amazing sailor tattoos.
Thousands of seafarers use these skin arts throughout the generations.
How was your line-crossing experience? Are you now a Trusty Shellback or still a Rusty Wog?
May the winds be in your favor