Crossing-the-Line

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Crossing-the-Line, in no other way is naval tradition seen more visibly than in the "Crossing the Line" ceremony held on board ships as they cross the equator.  For two-thirds of the crews of the Great White Fleet, this would be their first time and would require initiation into the Realm of Neptune.  As they approached the equator each ship prepared for King Neptune and his Court to arrive onboard and initiate his new "shellbacks."

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For the fleet transiting south, events for the ceremony began on the evening before when the ships were slowed as a small boat approached flying a red flag and the call "ship ahoy."  Each ship was slowed to allow a funny-looking old salt, King Neptune's messenger  clambered up the side to deliver his news on the bridge.  After greeting the Captain he produced mail from his bag summoning each sailor, "This is my letter, warning you to appear before Neptune's Court when it comes aboard."

 


 

In the morning Neptune arrived with his court and took command of the ship.  Immediately thereafter it was demanded that all "pollywogs" be brought before him for proper initiation into the Domain of Neptunus Rex where his court and their shipboard assistance took charge of the initiation.

 

The constable and his henchmen gather "pollywogs" and bring them forward to the barber's chair where a wooden razor fashioned from a board three feet long is displayed and the sailor is placed in the chair for a close shave.  It would be over in a moment.  The chair, spring loaded, was designed to launch the unsuspecting sailor over his back and into the waiting arms of his shipmates below.  There he received a scrubbing in dirty water, mixed with machine grease and lamp-black.  He would struggle but they would fill his mouth, nose, and ears with greasy suds.  Eventually they would allow him to make his way to the deck and then prepare for the next victim!

 

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