Some are rumors, perhaps urban myth, but much speculation surrounds what might happen when crossing the Equator. Will the water change direction? Will the wind die down? Will King Neptune and his entourage put in an appearance?
Originally, the tradition of making a fuss at the Equator Line was created as a test for seasoned sailors to ensure their new shipmates were capable of handling long rough times at sea. Sailors who have already crossed the Equator are nicknamed “Shellbacks”, sometimes referred to as Sons of Neptune; those who have not are nicknamed Pollywogs.
Once the ceremony is complete, a Pollywog receives a certificate declaring his new status. A rare status is the “Golden Shellback” for those who have crossed the Equator at the 180th meridian (International Date Line). The rarest Shellback status is that of the Emerald Shellback (USA), or Royal Diamond Shellback (Commonwealth), which is received after crossing theEquator at the Prime Meridian (0’00”00E / 0’00”00N).
In the 19th century, some of the initiation ceremonies could be brutal, and it wasn’t until as late as the 1980’s that controls and limits to these ceremonies were finally put in place for the various navies around the world. Not only does someone dress the role of King Neptune, but equally important is someone (male) who dresses up in feminine attire to play the role of Amphitrite (Sea-goddess and wife of Poseidon), and another role of Royal Baby.
To a much lesser degree, these ceremonies continue on private and passenger ships when crossing the Equator Line. On our Galapagos cruises, we cross the “Line” at least twice a week and make a point of crossing at least once in the daylight. It’s important that everyone have the opportunity to photograph this most important geographical point on the globe, and we certainly make a point of letting everyone know when it will happen!
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