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February 5, 2020
Crossing the Equator

Gail writes…

“Are you a Pollywog or a Shellback?”

Today was the big day, and that was the big question. Why? We were going to cross over from the northern hemisphere to the southern at about 8 pm. Traditionally on cruise ships, there is a ceremony to welcome the folks who have never crossed over. Rumors spread as people went through the day looking forward to either participating or watching the new folks as they were subjected to… who knew what?

Russell and I have crossed before. You only need to do this once. But as bad luck would have it, I had a migraine that day eight years ago, so I missed a friend being the sacrificial victim. I was determined to fully participate this time.

Call it hazing or call it good fun. Every ship and every trip does it differently. We have heard of whipped cream-doused passengers, required dives into the pool, Neptune and Poseidon together, and even Darth Vadar welcoming the new shellbacks to the “other” side. Much like the crossing of the Arctic Circle, it is just plain, good fun.

The ritual dates back at least 400 years in Western seafaring. The ceremony marks a mariner's transformation from slimy Pollywog (a seaman who hasn't crossed the equator) to trusty Shellback (also called a Son or Daughter of Neptune). It was a way for sailors to be tested for their seaworthiness.

We had dined with guest lecturer Terry Bishop and his wife Julie the night before, and he has been a main player in many crossings. He was Darth Vader – complete with lightsaber and hand-made paper helmet. He was participating again in today’s event, but he was very closed mouthed about the whole thing. On my way out to the pool, I bumped into him in the doorway. He had a bag but hid it well. So, no help there.

The night before and all day long, Andy the cruise director kept saying, “The pool will be closed, but be sure to wear your swimsuit.” He also clarified that though the actual crossing was closer to 8 pm (in the middle of dinner), we would be holding the ceremony at 5:30.

So before heading up to 4:30 Team Trivia, I got into my suit and slipped on my shorts. I wanted to get a good viewing spot and didn’t want to run back to the room to change. After neither of our trivia teams came in first, Russell and I headed outside to the pool deck. I am glad we went right out. The rails above were lined with people and the deck tables were full, as were the lounge chairs. Cameras were at the ready. Russell situated himself right up at the area where the “stage” was. Prime photo territory.

At 5:30 countdown started, and the entertainment crew marched out in formation from the upper deck down the stairs to the pool: sailors, pirates, mermaids, the judge (cruise director Andy), Neptune covered in seaweed (guest speaker Terry), Neptune’s wife (social hostess Tammie, also Andy’s wife) and finally Captain Aivo. Silly poems were read, then they told all the pollywogs to line up. We still didn’t know for sure what was going to happen, but it was becoming clear that fish were going to be involved.

Note mermaids (lower center) and pirates (lower right)

Neptune Terry, Captain Aivo and Judge Andy (with Happy the Hedgehog)

Neptune’s wife Tammie

And indeed there were fish. Three of the “sailors” lined the pool edge, each holding a real fish. We had to kiss a fish… or three. On the mouth. A real fish. It was all good fun until the bucket of ice water showed up. As we went down the line of fish, it wasn’t apparent at first that there was more than fish kissing. But – oh my – there was. A big douse of ice water over your head. Once in line it would not be easy to get out of line, so there you are stuck facing off with the fish and expecting a cold douse. Yes, I kissed the fish. Ice went down my suit, my hair was soaked and I had a blast.

The whole thing sort of fell into a “fish kiss free-for-all” as the crew sailors enjoyed way too much making the ladies squeal. Sienna (another social hostess) was a favorite target. It was her first time too, so fair game.

Oh, and remember Russell’s prime spot? He was maybe a bit too close to the action. The line of pollywogs was right in front of him, surrounding him. He was feet from the fish. At least he was far enough away from the water; I don’t think he got wet.

When we returned from dinner, our crossing certificates were on the bed.

So now I feel I am officially a Shellback!

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