Friday, October 28, 2005

Diary Entry #2: July 17 -- Crossing the Equator

Finally on July 17 we crossed the equator, the one spot in the whole universe that every true son of the sea dreams of crossing someday. Well, the equator looked like any other spot in the vast Pacific. On the eve before crossing there was much ado aboard the ol' Asty (Astoria), for there were nearly 100 men and officers who were still "polliwogs." We were served with subpoenas to be present at the court of King Neptune, the ruler of the deep; then came the initiation which lasted throughout the evening and the next day. The initiation consisted of unsightly haircuts, grease and various war paints, standing look-out watches on the after gun turret clothed in a watch cap and P-coats only, using two bottles for binoculars.

Then came the dawn. About 8:30 King Neptune took the chair surrounded by the royal guard. Polliwogs fell in on the foc'sle. Then after being duly tried the polys began their crawl from the foc'sle to the fantail -- 588 long feet. Boy, if you don't think it's long, just count your bruises when you pick yourself up. Just crawling through the paddle line didn't seem quite enough. When we reached the well deck we were met by the full pressure of salt water hoses drenching you to the bone, then with eyes smarting from the salt you ran into a net streched the width of the well deck and towering some 7 or 8 feet. Could we make it? You can bet we did for there were at least an odd hundred seasoned shellbacks goading you on with improvised paddles and clubs. The clubs, by the way, were made of canvas coverings stuffed with rags and soaked in salt water until they were as hard and stiff as baseball bats. Then with all of this, we started over the almost impassible barrier only to be met with new salt water hoses and more shellbacks with a vicious look in their eyes ready to pounce on you the moment you hit the deck. At long last we passed through the hanger on out to the fantail to join other "polys" drying themselves, lying in the sun and licking their wounds, for only on the fantail were we safe from the unmerciful onslaught of the shellback. And not till the dawn of a new day would we feel safe and be recognized as brother shellbacks.

[A little note -- about 46 years after my father's experience, I too became a "Trusty Shellback" (Crusty Shellback, in some sources) when I crossed the equator during a cruise through the Galapagos Islands. I'll be posting that in a bit when I enter my "Reality of Ecuador" journal on a separate blog. Needless to say, my experience pales in comparison to what my father went through. At least I'm not a Pollywog like you!]

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