Crossing The Line

I mentioned the shortness of twilight in the tropics. In the northern and southern latitudes, we are used to extended twilights at sunrise and sunset while in the tropics, it is a rush job – suns up and suns down. The Cap’n mentioned that twilight was when a navigator would be shooting sights of the stars ( taking astronomical observations) in order to plot the ship’s position. From there, we discussed the Green Flash at sunset, phosphorescent seas at night, flying fish, and liberty ports. We were playing nice for the family gathering. We both knew it couldn’t last.

Then we came to what should have been a genuinely neutral topic: crossing the line ceremonies. When a ship crosses the equator, those who’ve never crossed are introduced to the Court of Neptunas Rex. This small point was the first disagreement. It was the Court of King Neptune plain and simple on his vessel. On my ship, us newbies were called “slimy Pollywogs” on his just pollywogs. We both agreed, however, that Davy Jones was there to greet us and guide us into initiation into the Royal Order of Shellbacks. On my ship, the belly of the royal baby was slimed with a disagreeable mass of grease and molasses. We had to joyously lick it ( I have to say though the bosun looked better than usual with his mop wig). On the Cap’ns ship, you merely kissed the royal baby’s belly. The final insult was that on my ship, we slid down the plank into an improvised tub for baptism in saltwater. Of course, the Cap’n did that one better too.
“Well,” says I, “we’re both shellbacks, and different ships different long splices.” The Cap’n paused reached for his pipe and then killed off the discussion with the show stopper ” Yes, but I crossed the line, and cut the International Date Line – I am a Golden Shellback.”

The Cap’n lit his pipe and walked away. I should have known.


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