Saturday, January 7, 2006

From Pollywog to Shellback

I hadn't been on the ship more than a few months when we crossed the equator on our way to Brisbane, Australia. I think we got underway from the Philippines or somewhere in that vicinity and traveled south. It was probably a couple weeks of port and starboard shifts so having the initiation thrown in was a nice diversion.

The night before the crossing we held a beauty contest made up of a Wog from each division. I was the junior guy in my division but moreover...the most beautiful and so I was chosen to represent OI division. I have to mention that the negligee I'm wearing was courtesy of Pete Alford. He bought it in Hong Kong for his least that's the excuse he gave us for having it.

My boss, OS1 Corey, had been saving some eggs in the overhead panels of the 1st class mess which he'd gotten in port a month earlier. By the time of the crossing they were ripe. How I escaped having one of them placed in my mouth and then broken I'll never know. And some people thought Balut was bad.

As a Wog you spend all your time in a crawling position. In the case of us OS's it was Corey who took us through individually to make sure we didn't miss out on any of the challenges. The initiation begins with a visit to King Neptune's court and the receiving of an oyster from the Royal Baby's belly which has been smeared with grease and other disgusting stuff. The oyster must remain in your mouth at all times.

There were several obstacles you had to maneuver your way through on the way to becoming a Shellback. One of them was the coffin. The coffin has a few inches of wet garbage in the bottom just to make it fun. You're put in there with two or three other guys and the lid is closed. When the lid is reopened you have to have switched places with the others. Remember...don't lose your oyster or you'll have to go back in and find another or something similar to hold in your mouth.

Next was the garbage chute. The garbage chute is filled with wet garbage which was accumulated from the mess decks during the previous few weeks. The stuff isn't kept refrigerated and in the heat near the equator it doesn't take long for it to take on a life of its own. The smell was pretty bad and getting through the chute was made more difficult because there were people ahead of you being hassled as they tried to make their way through. If you were going to lose your oyster, this would be the place.

The initiation ends with a visit to the baptismal pool. Here's a photo of John Winton being led there by Wally Corey after having just come through the garbage chute. Once inside the pool you're forced down in the water and as you come back up you're transformed into a Shellback. This is a photo of John as he emerges a new Shellback being helped out by Wally. I made it a little more difficult for Wally. When he pushed me under I came back up and he said, 'what are ya?' and I responded, "I'm a Wog!". He pushed me under again and we replayed the same scenario. The third time he pushed me down I stayed under for 10 or 20 seconds and sprang back up exclaiming as loud as I could, "I'm a Shellback!" It's probably a good thing I did because I don't think I'd have been given a fourth chance.

After leaving Brisbane we set sail for Hawaii and altered our course just a bit so we could cross the equator at the international dateline thereby giving us Golden Shellback status.

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