I was paying homage to the god of weight and fitness this morning in hopes of absolution for my dietary sins committed over the last week and also for dietary sins I fully anticipate committing in the coming days. Yes, I was trudging along on the treadmill with only the vast Indian Ocean before me. Captain Magnus, our cheerful Scottish captain, interrupted the monotonous droning of the machines at 8 AM SCT (Seychelles Time Zone). He wanted to tell us that the equator was just off the port side of the ship. Unfortunately, he said, it is exactly the same color as the sea, so we would not be able to see it today. No worries, he said. Come to the swimming pool deck at 2 PM for the Crossing the Equator Ceremony.
We have crossed the equator a couple of times, once or twice by land and once or twice by sea, but have never been to a ceremony commemorating the event. About a decade or so ago, we visited the Ciudad Mitad del Munro in a little town outside of Quito, Equador. Our expired passports bear a stamp from the location. There is a photo somewhere around the house of us kissing as we stood on the bright yellow line marking the spot. Then we jumped in a bus and were taken to the actual “navel of the world.” It’s several hundred feet from the tourist attraction and there is no massive monument and gift shop. Actually, it is in the middle of a road, so it would not do to have throngs of tourists stopping for a photo op there. I believe we have a picture of the spot on the road. When you see it, you will just think it’s one of those random pictures you sometimes take of the inside of a pocket or the back of a car seat. It’s somewhat of a miracle that we have not deleted it before now.
But back to today’s ceremony. Captain Magnus spoke of Shellbacks and Pollywogs and King Neptune. There was also a passing reference to kissing a fish. I must admit that I got a little excited about the ceremony, but not about kissing a fish. It sounds like an auspicious affair! What’s the dress? Will there be food and drink? (I also must admit that any little thing excites me when I am on a treadmill. There is a reason I call it the “dreadmill.”) Anyway, I hurried back to our cabin to read all about it, glad that we had purchased the unlimited internet package.
Well, lo and behold! There is a plethora of information on the wonderweb about the ceremony. Pollywogs are people who have not previously crossed the equator; Shellbacks are veterans of the ceremony. Seems people have been doing them just about as long as they have been sailing the seas. Charles Darwin wrote of participating in a ceremony on the HMS Beagle. FDR wrote to Eleanor of his initiation at sea. Ceremonies were common on US Navy vessels before the military got all politically correct. Through the years, the ceremonies have taken many forms and traditions. As with most events of this type, there have been instances where things have gotten out of hand and truly awful hazings have occurred and there have even been some deaths. The Navy may still have them today, but they are very tame compared to the ceremonies of yore.
Just as I predicted, the ceremony here aboard this ship was also tame, but it was still pretty funny. Our 6’6″ cruise director wore a blue wig reminiscent of Marge Simpson and some crazy-high spike heels. His make-up was a bit overdone, but it looked great with his flowing purple gown. He was a magnificent Master of Ceremonies at well over eight feet in height! Two new crew members, both Pollywogs, were subjected to scorn and a little ritualistic all-in-fun “hazing,” but were deemed Shellbacks after kissing the fish. The fish looks like he has seen more than one Crossing of the Equator Ceremony and I was surprised to see so many people lining up to kiss that slimy thing, but I guess they were well served by liquid courage from the bar. King Neptune and his queen presided and he looked pleased, so hopefully he will grant us perfect weather as we explore the Seychelles by land and by sea. I just wish he would grant us a reprieve from old men wearing Speedos.