Friday, May 30, 2014

Shellbacks and Pollywogs

On this day seventy years ago a converted passenger ship named M. S. Bloemfontein crossed the equator at 153° 35’ west en route to the Admiralty Islands and while doing so, commemorated the occasion with a maritime tradition that dated back to at least the early 1820’s –The Crossing of the Line. The ceremony marks the first crossing of the equator for members of the ship’s crew, referred to as slimy Pollywogs, initiating these relatively untested seafarers into the shared hardships and triumphs that lay ahead. Tried and true Shellbacks who have seen southern hemisphere drag the Pollywogs before the most experienced member of the crew who, for the time being, is designated His Majesty Neptune. What follows is a session of hazing which can include being shaved bald, blasted with a salt water fire hose, getting smeared with axel grease or paint, or being forced to drink a dose of “medicine” concocted from ingredients such as Tabasco sauce, diesel oil, raw eggs, and pepper. All the while the Shellbacks hurl insults at the Pollywogs and the ceremony goes on until Neptune is satisfied the initiates have been properly humbled. Once the ordeal is over the Pollywogs are pronounced honorable Shellbacks, members of the Royal Order of the Deep, and awarded a certificate stating as much.

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