On October 1st, the day after departing from Takoradi, Ghana, we officially crossed the 0° 0° line, switching our maritime titles from Pollywogs to Emerald Shellbacks. Are you just as confused as I was? I thought so!
The 0° 0° line is the exact point where the Equator and the Prime Meridian cross in the Atlantic Ocean. This point is 0 degrees latitude, and 0 degrees longitude. Not north nor south nor east nor west. It is, however, where the north and south and east and west hemispheres all meet. While crossing the equator by ship is something that many ships do experience, crossing at this specific point, this 0° 0° is especially rare. Because it is such an exact point, commercial ships would not go out of their way to get there. Our ship, on the other hand, made it a point to go right for that spot to say we were there (we are very privileged!).
On this exact spot is a buoy marking this very hypothetical significance. I say hypothetical because they are lines made up for navigational purposes. There is nothing else significant about this location in the middle of the ocean. I’m unsure of why, but the buoy is owned by the United States, Mexico, and France. This almighty buoy floats there day after day, showing the very few visitors where this 0° 0° location is at. Although I probably sound sarcastic, it is pretty cool that we had the chance to visit there. The Captain even made a loop so that we could get closer to the buoy.
Pollywogs and Shellbacks
Never having heard these terms until a few days ago, I’m assuming many others haven’t heard them either. In maritime tradition, a Pollywog is someone who has never crossed the Equator by ship. A Shellback, on the other hand, is someone who has crossed the Equator by ship. Historically, this was a time of initiation from the Shellbacks to the Pollywogs to enter them into the club. From what I hear, it used to be intense. On Semester at Sea, we have our own ceremony and celebration of Neptune Day, the day we cross the Equator.
Neptune Day is one of the most popular days on the ship. The Shellbacks, who have already been initiated, plan the day’s events in secret. Pollywogs aren’t supposed to know anything about the day. However, Youtube kills that tradition for many who do a simple search. I did not do any research, as I wanted to be surprised. (You may have noticed that I first mentioned we are Emerald Shellbacks, rather than just a Shellback. Anyone who crosses at the 0° 0° mark is considered an Emerald Shellback since it is much more rare to do)
The God of Neptune must initiate all Pollywogs through ceremony. What this means is that our Assistant Executive Dean Tom (who happens to be friends with my good friend, Brady) dresses up as Neptune. His green painted body, large white beard, and large crown made him look like an evil Santa King. All Pollywogs (around 600 people) gathered on the pool deck, where Neptune led the ceremonies. We Pollywogs repeated certain phrases like, “I respect all of the seas”, and, “Yes, I am worthy.” And then, one by one, we stepped up to the side of the pool to take our final oath, after which we had some kind of a green liquid dumped onto our heads, and then we jumped into the pool. After swimming across and climbing up the ladder, two Shellbacks were holding a large 24-inch fish, of which we had to kiss (yes, this is a real fish). Then we go to Neptune and his wife, greet them, and then kiss the ring on Neptune’s right ring finger. And then finally, we are officially Shellbacks! (If this whole process sounds weird, you’re right. It is weird. But it was fun.)
One by one, for the duration of a few hours, each Pollywog completed this process. A part that I found humorous is that this happened to be a Monday morning at 8:00AM. I’m not sure if many Monday mornings were as interesting as this particular one!