And so we come to it, that invisible yellow line in the water that separates the pollywogs from the shellbacks: The equator.
(If you don’t understand what I just said, you’re a pollywog 😉
Now while most people know that crossing the equator is a big deal and that it is a major milestone in the life of any mariner, what is not common knowledge is exactly how this little ceremony is supposed to be celebrated. Since conflicting rumors abound and I was the one who went to that maritime school thing (yay Coast Guard Academy…), Allan and Alison assigned me to research and design our equator crossing ceremony (Tiff was busy at the time flying to the Caribbean to “work” on a private sailing yacht). I hope that any of you cruisers looking to do your own crossing will find our experience helpful in planning your own ceremony.
Doing some online digging, I found that the majority of equator crossing commemorations ranged from the messy, disgusting & mildly sexual on the civilian side to the time honored military ceremony of beating people with rubber hoses while they kissed fat men on the belly. I am not exaggerating either of these statements; feel free to look it up yourself. After 9 years of service in a sea going military branch I can tell you this: I don’t care what argument you make about tradition…you hit someone with a rubber hose or humiliate them publicly and you just hazed them.
So being as I didn’t exactly feel like cleaning up a vat of lard off the deck and I thought most of the crew would agree with my feelings that physical abuse makes for poor celebration, I decided to get a little creative.
First off, cheesy costumes have been a traditional part of Equator crossings for a long time and well, I had a lot of spare time on the night watch. Tin foil and 3 hours with nothing to do but listen to the Old Testament and you too can look like this!
Another a classical piece of the ceremony is the sacrifice to Neptune, the ancient god of the oceans. Typically a sacrifice of wine or Champagne is made but Alison asked, “how often do you think poor Neptune gets tropical flavored popsicles out here in the middle of nowhere?” Always concerned about the feelings of mythical gods with legendary powers to create whatever they wish, and looking to score some brownie points for good seas on the last leg of our trip, we made our ritual sacrifice with a twist.
Next Allan thought, “Hey guys, we have a perfectly serviceable boat. Why don’t we jump off it in mile deep water and swim across the equator?” This seemed like a reasonable idea to everyone (don’t ask me why, see below). Our first attempt left Tiffany, Allan and I concerned that, after 15 days at sea, Alison might just have decided she could do much better single-handing.
Our second attempt garnished better results.
However it should be noted that I made our very first shark sighting of the trip 10 feet off our starboard beam about 30 minutes after we got out of the water. Needless to say that was not my favorite.
After drying off and drifting back over the equator so Alison could swim across (this was before I saw the shark, OK!?) we allowed ourselves a wet ship for one bottle of wine. After polishing off the bottle, I thought we could add another finely established maritime tradition to our ceremony.
In retrospect, looking at a chart of countries that intersect the equator, writing the notes only in English probably was not the best idea.
Finally, basking in our newfound glory of being accepted into the sailing elite, full of confidence & beaming with our new royal designation of “trusty shellbacks” Tiffany and Alison added to the festivities by unearthing our finely preserved treasure of the freezer.
Thus ended our observance of the Equator crossing. All of us had a great time, a few laughs and went home happy (except the shark, but hey I like my legs where they are.) The whole thing was pretty easy and took about 90 minutes to pull off. I’d highly recommend other cruisers taking what we did as a baseline for their own ceremonies. Hey, if you have any other ideas about fun ways to celebrate the crossing, leave a comment!