Getting Summoned to Neptune’s Court after Crossing the Equator at Sea

Earth Observatory Blog

Getting Summoned to Neptune’s Court after Crossing the Equator at Sea

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This thinly veiled announcement signaled that today would be the day of the much-anticipated, and feared, equator ceremony.

The less said about yesterday’s equator ceremony the better. Unfortunately, as the Communications Officer for the MIRAGE, I am duty bound to describe the events as they transpired.

To begin, the ceremony, as I understand it, is an exercise in shared ritual humiliation intended to create a bond between participants who have passed an invisible line on the globe, the equator, in something that floats. In this case, there were more than 20 of us who were initiated into this equator-crossing club. You can’t be a member of this club if you fly over the equator in a jet, and I suspect no one would care if you swam over it, either. But you can join the club — indeed, you must — if you cross the equator by ship or boat.

Neophytes (in coveralls) and a few veterans, prior to a fun-filled afternoon of ceremonial games and ritual humiliation.

Several seamen described their experiences to me. One recalled having his head shaved in a reverse Mohawk. Another recounted being brought before a judge, who charged him with entering Neptune’s kingdom without permission. The punishment for this transgression is referred to as “baptisms” by the seamen.

We got off easy. We were only compelled to wear dirty crew coveralls throughout the day, except during lunch, since work clothes are not permitted in the dining room — the rules in the dining room of the Marion Dufresne are even more immutable than those of King Neptune’s. Then, at the end of our daily 4 pm meeting, we had raw eggs cracked on our heads, handfuls of dijon mustard spread on our faces, flour dumped on top of us, and then ladling a really nasty smelling fish soup over our heads and down the fronts and backs of our coveralls. Some of my colleagues had their faces smeared with ketchup and mustard, but I think our tormenters ran out of those supplies before they got to me. 

By now, we were a pretty pathetic group, and it must be said that the crewmembers heaping these indignities upon us were doing so with a good deal of glee.

When I interviewed Captain Victor Broi (reading from a script and wearing a ridiculous hat) a few weeks ago, I thought he was a pretty nice guy.

After a quick rinse with a fire hose of salt water, we were pulled toward the bow of the ship, where the captain, some of the senior scientists, and a number of other key crew members were awaiting us as King Neptune's court. We had violated Neptune’s territory, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah — they were reading this stuff off a script!

King Neptune's wife was played by a crewmember whose drag attire was deliberately cheap and amateurish, as were all the hats, wigs, costumes and props wielded by members of Neptune’s court. 

Finally my crimes were read aloud (something about being a spy for the NSA rather than a blogger), and I was made to massage noodles into Queen Neptune’s hairy feet. Then we were hosed off again, this time for good, and after shedding our coveralls on the deck, we stumbled off to our rooms to try and shampoo the stink out of our hair. Then we had a party where the captain passed out certificates, and that was that.

This document ensures I will never have to go through an equator-crossing ceremony again.

This evening for dinner, the kitchen staff — wanting, I suppose, one last laugh — served fish soup as the appetiser. Most of my colleagues seemed to enjoy it, but I couldn’t touch the stuff.

To continue to follow the progress of MIRAGE, please check the EOS blog throughout the month of July, and spread the word using #MIRAGEcruise.

All photographs are taken by Ben Marks, unless otherwise stated.

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