Crossing the Line, What it is..
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In the Maritime world I think one of the oldest rituals is the "Crossing the Line" ceremony. In the Navy the "Line" is the Equator and the Initiation makes "Shellbacks" out of lowly "Pollywogs". First I had never heard of shellbacks or pollywogs until I came aboard the Valdez. Our first cruise out we didn't go near the Equator sonot much was said about "The Line". But after being in drydock for a month we set out on my second cruise on the Valdez up the west coast of Africa and headed towards the "Line". I remember hearing "are we gonna have fun with you guys" or words to that effect. That's when I first heard about "Pollywog night". The night before we were to cross the equator we had our turn at having some fun at the expense of the shellbacks. So we figured we better have some fun while we could because we knew the next day were dead meat. The one thing that sticks out in my mind is pouring ketchup and mustard over a railing and down a ladder on top of some shellbacks. We were to pay for that dearly the next day.

My first duty on the morning of the initiation was to get the XO a cup of coffee at his door at 5am(I think). Well I was on my way up to his cabin when I saw the milk in the coffee had curdled. Ok what do you do? Take the XO a bad cup of coffee on time or go back and get another cup and be late? I opted for the latter and was late but I figured hey I've had it anyway and I sure didn't want to give him a bad cup of coffee. It got worse. I think the first thing after that was a trip to the Royal Barber. Now you figure they are going to give you a baldy like you got in Boot camp right? WRONG... The Royal Barber gave you a mish mash hair cut. He would cut some off the side to the skin, some off of the top to the skin and some off of the back to the skin. I think you get the picture. By the time he was done you knew you had to get a real boot camp haircut after this thing was over.

The next thing I believe was the Gauntlet. It is just what it sounds like. Guys in a line on two sides and you have to make it through without getting beat up to bad. I don't remember much about it but I do know it wasn't any fun. Then came what I thought would be the worst part. The Garbage Chute. They made you get on your belly and crawl through a long(probably 20-30 feet long) plastic chute with garbage on the bottom. The foulest smelling dung in the world. All the while they are swinging the chute to the left and right making it all the harder to get through. I thought I was never going to get out of that chute. I did though and it was almost over.

But the worst was yet to come. You had to go before King Neptune and were charged with all kinds of stuff. None comes to mind right now but none the less I remember I was sentenced to kiss the Baby's Belly THREE times. Not once, not twice but three times. Now the Baby's belly is a big fat guy with, again garbage(mustard, hot stuff, you name it) in a heap on his belly and you have to kiss it. Now you can't just nip it, you have to kneel in front of him and there is someone behind you and when you go to kiss the belly he shoves your head right into the garbage and rubs it a little. Now I had to do that three times.

Finally it was over and we got washed down with a hose and we were members of the Anchient Order of Shellbacks. That was the 14th of March 1964. Now the bad thing is I never went across the Equator again to be able to take part in the initiation of other pollywogs but I will FOREVER be a SHELLBACK..

Carl Cox

Equator Crossing 1969