"I smell . . . wogs."

Crossing the Line. The boisterous ceremonies of “crossing the line” are ancient and their derivation is lost.  It is well known that ceremonies took place long ago when the ship crossed the thirtieth parallel, and also when going through the Straits of Gibraltar.  Early ceremonies were rough and to a great extent supposed to try the crew to determine whether or not the novices on their first cruise could endure the hardships of life at sea.  The custom then, as at present, is primarily a crew’s party.   The Vikings were reported at an early date to carry out these ceremonies on crossing certain parallels.  It is highly probable that the present day ceremony was passed on to the Anglo-Saxons, and Normans from the Vikings.  As at earlier times, ceremonies of propitiation are carried on to appease Neptune, the mythological god of the seas.  One who has crossed the line (equator) is called a Shellback.  The Sons of Neptune (shellbacks)  prepare the ship for King Neptune and the Royal Party’s arrival and conduct the solemn ceremonies.
Bluejackets treasure the certificate which testifies that
“in Latitude 00-00 and Longitude xx-xx,” and usually addressed to all Mermaids, Sea Serpents, Whales, Sharks, Porpoises, Dolphins, Skates, Eels, Suckers, Lobsters, Crabs, Pollywogs and other living things of the sea,” __(name)__ has been found worthy to be numbered as one of our trusty shellbacks, has been gathered to our fold and duly initiated into the solemn mysteries of the ancient order of the deep.”
Members of Neptunus Rex’s party usually include Davy Jones, Neptune’s first assistant, Her Highness Amphitrite, the Royal Scribe, the Royal Doctor, the Royal Dentist, the Royal Baby,  the Royal Navigator, the Royal Chaplain, the Royal Judge, Attorneys, Barbers and other “dignitaries” that suit the party.  The uninitiated are lowly pollywogs.
Golden Shellback is one who crosses the equator at the 180th meridian (international date line).  — Sea Service Traditions, Bluejacket.com

There are basically two types of sailors — Shellbacks and, well, wogs.  Today’s missive from our deployed correspondent relates the transition from the world of slime and whale dung to becoming a Trusty and True member of Neptunus Rex’s kingdom.  The journey begins with one of these:

Subpoena to Appear Before Neptunus Rex (click image to enlarge)

and ends with one of these:

Shellback Certificate (click image to enlarge)

but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  Here, let Charles tell his story…

Hello SJS,

We just finished up visiting Kula Lumpar, in Malaysia. It is an interesting place as well, when compared to Thailand. It is almost a pure Muslim country and society is a complete mirror difference to what was seen in Thailand. To start with, Malaysia was first a Dutch, then an English colony. You can see in certain spots around the vesigates of that colonial influence in the language (a mix of Dutch, English, Chinese, and Malay) and some of the buildings. Malaysia is where about 85% of the world’s natural rubber comes from. Most of it is collected via the same way that natural syrup is collected in places like Maine. Just tap a tree and put a bucket out, come back a few hours later. One of the other things that Malaysia is famous for is oil as well. Sharing access to some of the south china sea oil beds with its neighbor Indonesia. With that oil comes money wealth and that seem to be the biggest thing to see around here.

Kula Lumpar is also home to two of the tallest towers in the world. Officially referred to as the PETRONAS Towers, they are something like a full mile up in the sky from the ground. These towers were made famous a few years back with the movie “entrapment” staring Catharine zeta-Jones and Sean Connery. I guess the strangest thing though is for all the banks and malls with upscale stores on one side of the street. On the other side of the street there was some older shopping centers that when you walk in sort of have the look and feel of a flea market/farmer’s market. All sorts of vendors selling all sorts of things, lights that don’t seem to be working, and in general a feeling that your walking down a street looking for something that you shouldn’t. This place feels as if it wants to be like Singapore, but rather in a flashy made the money too fast sort of way.

I really didn’t get a chance to explore the city like I wanted to. Mainly from the security threats, being that this is a strong Muslim country; there are some very large radical elements further south. So they were really telling us to stick to about six different spots. One was the international boulevard, named cause all of the embassies are along this road, lots of little shops and tailors. Chinatown, a region very similar to the one’s I have seen in Singapore and San Francisco. Close streets, some interesting food to try, and more vendors then you can shake a stick at, selling all sorts of things. The final four spots were blocks around the major shopping malls. Nearly all of these were with in a ten minute walk of each other.

The malls weren’t bad. Just a number of upscale stores. What was really interesting, at least to me, was how each floor in some of the malls seem to be dedicated to a gender. So for example everything on the second floor would be all the men’s clothing from the full ensemble clothing down to some shoe stores at the end of the floor. Ditto was true for the Women’s clothing. Like I said most of these were upscale stores, so you could see a Burberry store, Hugo Boss, Gucci, Armani, Chanel, Tag Hauer, etc all through a number of these places. Even some of the children’s clothing was upscale like Armani for kids and Gap Baby. Like I said most of these seemed like they wanted to flash the money around, but couldn’t decided how to be discrete with it. In the end the Kula Lumpar seems to give off a vibe of wanting to be like Singapore, but just can’t seem to finish it off like Singapore did. One of the biggest things that really stuck out in my mind was how just like in Singapore there was very much a mixing of cultures. Considering that there are British ex-pats here, native Malay’s, Chinese backgrounds, Indo-Pakistani background peoples through out the city. For the most part they seem to mix, but I got the sense from talking to a couple of locals that the neighborhoods are segregated and that they sort of enjoy it that way. Again a completely different culture then what I am use to, but if it works for them then who am I to comment on.

We left Kula Lumpar about two days ago and am in the process of heading back into the deep blue pacific. As part of that we need to cross the equator, and doing so we have a big celebration. This is celebration is called a “Crossing the Line” ceremony. It is where all the pollywogs from the slimy earth are purged of their slime and initiative through a series of team-building stunts and exercises to becoming shellbacks. One thing to know is that we did cross the line going over to the combat zone, however to save on time and effort of outlaying for the ceremony, they now wait until the trip home. Which makes sense. The day before (12FEB10) was the start of the ceremony with the washing aboard of the royal scribe Davy Jones, which they did in the fo’scale. He came aboard and told the CO of the ship that they were approaching the domain of his royal highness King Neptunus Rex. After which all the loyal, krusty, and trusty Shellbacks were ordered to report for their own training at various times to the fo’scale on how the next day’s ceremonies were going to go down. The word put out to us wogs, was that you had a choice of either participating or not. If you didn’t want to participate then you had to muster in the ship’s library or fo’scale for training. The day started at 0630 with some singing and recognizing all the shellbacks that came into our living space. After doing some stunts for the senior shellbacks in our squadron, such as trying to row the boat away from the shore and singing “row, row, the boat”. We went down to the hangar bay to try and clean up the slime they put down there (which was salt water and green dye). We did this mainly by rolling around in our wog uniforms. The uniforms were mainly a white t-shirt decorated with the word “WOG” on the front and back. Most us added things, I decorated my self as the “electric wog”. After cleaning the hangar bay and getting drenched in hangar bay three by shellbacks throwing salt water on us we got up on an aircraft elevator to travel up to the flight deck. On the way up they sprayed us down with a fog spray of salt water. Which was great cause it was in the 90’s out here today. So it cooled us down. After arriving at the top we had to go to various stations. One of the stations was flight deck sweepers where we had to try and blow out these things called pad eyes, basically divets in the deck that have a cross welded in them were we attach chains to tie airplanes down to, with the water. The problem was that the they had five us around in a circle and while spraying us down to clean out the pad eyes. Kind of hard to keep it clear of water. After that we had to roll like a wheel all over the place to another station with fire hoses and wash each other down while singing “I’m a slimy wog”, finally followed up by facing the Royal court of King of all the Sea Domains Neptunus Rex. A quick court case about being a slimy wog and defiling his domain with our slime we got dunked by swimming through some large engine storage cans. The catch to this final act was that if we come out the other side and don’t say that we are a shell back, then we start again from the beginning. It was fun. After all of that we had a steel beach picnic. It was an awesome day.

Well that is it for this week. We are getting closer to heading home cause they are talking more and more about home coming and leave periods.

Now, in *my* day ’twas a bit different in that one felt the long-lasting after-effects of “smokers” (sections of old fire hose) being liberally applied, non-skid burns to the knees and palms and that **** arresting gear grease that took forever to get out of your hair.  But that was then and this is now.  hard to believe some folk can go through an entire career and still be a slimy wog (as was the case wth our carrier CO when we crossed the line in ’80 on IKE) and some actually retire — as a wog.  So, congrats Charles and make sure you keep lots of copies of that certificate for the next time you cross the line.  Life is a lot more enjoyable as a Trusty Shellback 😉

Now, about that Bluenose deal…

UPDATE:  AT1 sends along some photos:



  1. 28 December 1980 embarked in The Good Ship USS Ranger, CV61 enroute to Mombasa, Kenya for a bit of liberty after almost 65 days at sea.
    We have a former Mighty Shrike at the AMU here at Edwards. His initiation was almost dinner theatre by his description. Not like the Shellaileigh that was applied liberally to us old school wogs. And other such pleasantries that I still will not describe with the average side stepping beach creatures that read this fine blog.

  2. Glenn:

    Mine was old school plus I got to go early with the “special” group since I was that day’s SDO. Lots of arms that weren’t tired just yet and the Royal Baby had a ton of grease at that stage :p
    w/r, SJS

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