by Rich Wilson, Skipper Great American III
For a mariner, crossing the equator – the Line – is a major event. The tradition for a first-timer is an onboard ceremony where the initiate is degraded before King Neptune, who must pass judgment upon the initiate’s worthiness to come into his new hemisphere. Typically, a shipmate will dress as King Neptune, with royal scepter, a crown, and beard, and act as judge, jury, and prosecutor prosecutor on the worthiness of the supplicant.
The tradition is taken seriously by mariners and aboard commercial vessels, too. When I was aboard the huge containership New Zealand Pacific (after our rescue by them off Cape Horn, Thanksgiving Day, 1990), and en route to Europe, those merchant mariners in their crew who had not crossed the Line before were smeared with bilge oil and grease in their hair. In our 2003 Hong Kong-New York passage, my shipmate Rich du Moulin, an initiate, ended up with a more modern version, granola and milk in his hair!
Either way, the intent is serious: to give King Neptune, who rules the seas, his due respect. And it is a way for us at sea to remind ourselves that we are not in control out here – it is King Neptune, with his winds and waves and currents, who rules. For us to be safe, we must respect the sea, and an equator-crossing ceremony is a symbol of that respect.