From Pollywog to Shellback: Neptune Day on Semester at Sea

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This past Saturday, the morning after the Semester at Sea ship departed from Ghana, was meant to be a Reading Day. This is a chance for the students to reflect on their time in a country, as well as catch up/get ahead on their studies—or that’s the purpose of most Reading Days at least. What the majority of them didn’t know is that this Reading Day happened to serve a dual purpose: It was also Neptune Day on Semester at Sea.

The line-crossing ceremony is a long-standing Naval tradition that serves as an initiation for sailors making their first Equator crossing. All the “shellbacks” (those who have crossed before) get to initiate the “pollywogs” (first-timers). Semester at Sea takes these traditions seriously, and so a very festive yet serious ship crew—as well as all the staff and faculty who have sailed before—went through the ship banging pots and pans and waking students up at 0730 for an early breakfast before being ordered to convene at the pool at 0900.

Neptune Day on Semester at Sea: From Pollywog to Shellback

Once there, all of us pollywogs had to prove our loyalty to the gods and goddesses on the council. Our own ship capt’n Jeremy played the role of King Neptune, painting his whole body green. (At least they picked paint that washed off this time ‘round; on a past voyage, the captain was bathed in a semi-permanent paint that wouldn’t wash off for a solid week!)

Two of the deans Kat and Laurie, the leader of all things fun Dave, and I decided to be the sacrificial lambs and go first. Truth be told, we were smart: At least we’d be jumping into a clean pool!

In past years, pollywogs have been christened with a huge bucket of sludge that contained all of the leftovers from the kitchen throughout the voyage, with fish heads, scales and guts galore. We were lucky in that ours was just fishy dishwater.

When we climbed out, we had to do three things: 1) Kiss a dead fish. 2) Kiss Neptune’s ring. 3) Get officially dubbed a shellback by the Goddess of Something-or-the-Other (aka one of my favorite faculty members, Julia).

And then, after the four of us “broke ground,” chaos was unleashed upon the ship.

The rest of the shipboard community went in droves, including SVV, who took along the waterproof camera for the ride.

Once everybody had crossed over from pollywog to shellback, which took an hour or so, the entire 7th deck morphed into one giant, sober dance party—at 10am on a Saturday morning. It was like a G-rated version of an MTV Spring Break Edition. Everyone joined in, from ages 3 to 93. The little kids were dancing, the students were busting out some serious moves, even the faculty and older Lifelong Learners were showing off their skills. It was awesome.

And the party lasted all morning, too!

But there were still more traditions to be had…

Bald heads! Another huge Semester at Sea tradition is for many participants to shave their heads on the day of the equatorial crossing. In all, 20 girls and more than 50 guys got their heads buzzed by Josh. It was quite the sight!

I have a conniption at just getting a mere trim, so clearly I didn’t participate, but my fellow Field Office girl Paula most certainly did. She’s so brave!

The before:

The after:

I’m sort of jealous of how quickly she can get ready in the morning now without a head of hair to wash, dry and style! Also, with such a large (and likely misshapen) head, I would never look nearly as good.

It was one of those days where having this much fun while “working” feels like a crime. I’m so lucky to be a part of this vibrant community and am stoked there are still three months—and 12 countries—of good times ahead of us.

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COMMENTS
  • September 19, 2011

    Love it all!!

    • September 19, 2011
      Kristin

      Scott’s posting his “day in the life of a dependent” for you next week =) And my good friend is the Dependent Children’s Coordinator, so maybe I can get her to guest post before the end of the voyage for those of you thinking of coming with families!

  • September 19, 2011

    I can not believe this is your life! So great!

  • September 19, 2011

    OMG that looks like sooooo much fun!!!
    I would love to be part of the semester at sea ship some how at some point in my life! 🙂

    • September 19, 2011
      Kristin

      You totally should! Apply for a job! Or go back to school. Either way =)

  • September 19, 2011
    k

    That looks like such an amazing time! I only wish I could be so brave as to shave my hair. But man, that grow back is going to be a b*tch!

    • September 19, 2011
      Kristin

      One of my friends who has sailed twice before shaved her head on the 2004 voyage, and she said it STILL isn’t as long as it was before…and she only cuts her hair once a year, too! Crazy.

  • September 19, 2011

    In the summer of 1998 I became a shellback through the Texas A&M Summer School at Sea on the Texas Clipper II. I was a freshman in college…and it was an interesting day in the Pacific Ocean! Yours looks tamer than ours was, there was leftover food scraps and some weird pancake/flour batter with water. Took forever to wash out of my hair. Enjoy!

    • September 20, 2011
      Kristin

      Apparently, ours was WAY tamer than it usually is. My friends who did it a few years said they dumped all the leftovers from the voyage thus far onto them–fish scales, pasta, all manners of food scraps.

      (I had no idea A&M had its own similar program. There are actually a couple of Aggies on ours!)

  • September 19, 2011

    Quick test. Posted a comment but not sure it worked.

    • September 19, 2011
      Kristin

      Spammers have been super aggressive of late, so my spam filter is working overtime and spamming many comments that shouldn’t be. I go through it once a day though and phish out all legit comments =)

  • September 19, 2011

    Um… yeah, I’m with you- there is no way I could/would shave my head. I’d like to think i’m that brave and well, less vain, but I’m not! I like my hair!!

    • September 19, 2011
      Kristin

      I don’t think it’s necessarily vain for not wanting to be bald, ha! (Though that was the precise reason I decided last minute not to apply for the Air Force Academy–I couldn’t imagine chopping my locks!)

  • September 19, 2011

    Wow! That’s so cool. I don’t blame you for not wanting to part with your locks but it’s amazing that soo many people did.
    Cool updates! Hope you’re enjoying company with Journeywoman as well. She’s amazing and we’re glad to have her on Canadian Soil. 🙂

    • September 19, 2011
      Kristin

      Evelyn is the best! I’m so so sad she’s leaving us this next weekend and heading back to Canada Land 🙁

  • September 19, 2011
    Kendra

    I love this whole experience! I would love to do this. I’m thinking of doing one of the Enrichment trips. Can you find out the demographics on these? Also, what do you use to edit your video? Thanks and post more, it makes my day!

    • September 19, 2011
      Kristin

      I have no idea of the actual demographics are, but it’s definitely older than students age. I’d say 40s and up maybe? But I’m just purely guessing–It’s more of your traditional cruise, with entertainment but also lecturers who are experts in their field. I really want to go on the Galapagos Islands one in May–it looks so awesome!

      P.S. I use iMovie to edit all my videos. What’s driving me crazy, though, is I can’t figure out how to upload them on Vimeo in high res. We shoot in HD or large format with the GoPro and our Canons, and every time I upload a clip to the Web, Vimeo compresses and pixelates it!

      • September 21, 2011

        Kristin, I’d like to investigate applying for a job with the enrichment cruse program. Can you give me any information on what company this is and where to find them online for information about job applications? Thanks, Barbara

        • September 21, 2011
          Kristin

          Although they use the same ship, Enrichment Voyages aren’t the same sort of set-up as Semester at Sea. From what I understand, they hand pick five lecturers who are special in fields that have to do with that particular voyage, and everyone else working those two- to three-week voyages are the ship crew who work on board full time (the kitchen crew, the cabin attendants, etc.). Sorry!

  • September 19, 2011

    This looks like soooo much fun! How do you guys ever get any work done? 😛

    • September 19, 2011
      Kristin

      Luckily, it was a Saturday so we can justify all that fun =)

      (But seriously, every day on the ship is so much fun–and every day feels like the equivalent to a week–that I’m going to have a huge problem going back to “real life” at the end of four months.)

  • September 19, 2011

    Have you traveled on the Hurtigruten in Norway?

    No fish water, but the baptism ceremony when crossing the Equator is ICE COLD!

    http://youtu.be/efpudltS26M

    • September 19, 2011
      Kristin

      Wait, how do you cross the Equator up in Norway??

      I have gone to Spitsbergen with Hurtigruten, but the only baptism I had was swimming in the Arctic Circle! Is that what you did, too?

  • September 19, 2011

    Blonde moment! We got a huge scoop of ice and water poured down our front or back when we crossed the ARCTIC Circle

    • September 19, 2011
      Kristin

      Oh haha! You had me seriously questioning my own geography. Yes, I SWAM in that very ocean when I crossed. It was fuh-reezing! it seriously took me 24 hours of hot showers and kettles of tea to feel warm again.

  • September 19, 2011

    What an absolutely awesome party! I could stand the fish initiation but like you couldn’t shave my head. Your job is almost as tough as mine.

  • September 19, 2011

    This is making me want to become a Lifelong Learner even more. What an awesome tradition!

    And I agree about the head shaving. Just looking at the pictures gave me anxiety.

    • September 20, 2011
      Kristin

      You should! Only, you should go as an LLL the next time I apply again, which I’m thinking will be in 2013… 😉

  • September 19, 2011

    Ha! Felt like I was there! Thanks for sharing. Looks like some of the people learned some of their moves in Ghana. Serious rhythm!

    • September 20, 2011
      Kristin

      I wish I weren’t such a white girl…talk about ZERO rhythm right here.

  • September 19, 2011

    There will be no head shaving if I ever end up on SAS… I’m terrified it won’t come back! And I have a funny shaped head, too, I think. At any rate, props to you for the fish kissing and what-not. I’m proud of you!

    • September 20, 2011
      Kristin

      You have the most beautiful mane of anybody I have ever known–if you even dare try to shave it, I will hunt down the ship and stop you!

      • September 20, 2011

        Haha you’re the best! That’s my favorite compliment in a while =)

  • September 19, 2011

    Holy monkey balls, that looks like a blast! And I have to say, some of the chicks almost look hotter without hair. It makes their eyes look so piercing!

    • September 20, 2011
      Kristin

      I know, right? Jealous of those chicks. And why do I have the sneaking suspicion that you would have been right there alongside them shaving your own noggin?

  • September 20, 2011

    So! Much! Fun! I love it! And total props to you for not shaving your head, I would have done exactly the same, no clippers are coming near my weirdly shaped noggin :0)

    • September 20, 2011
      Kristin

      I kept being afraid I’d all of a sudden get impulsive and do it before I could think logically–sort of like when you’re standing on the edge of something and feel compelled to jump–but luckily, that didn’t happen =)

  • September 20, 2011

    Now I see what you mean about those WordPress problems…looks like my original comment didn’t go through, so this is round 2: The pool stuff looks like so much fun! The head shaving not so much. I don’t think bald would be a good look for me. But kissing a dead fish I could handle.

    • September 20, 2011
      Kristin

      Weird–and it wasn’t even in my spam filter either, which is usually the case! Grrrr, Wordpress….

  • September 20, 2011

    Holy pants, this looks like a good time! I want to go on Semester at Sea just to experience this day! (Though no head shaving for me, either. I’m pretty sure my bald would look like a lumpy potato.)

    • September 21, 2011
      Kristin

      I’m already preparing my next application for Semester at Sea (2013, I’m hoping) to experience it all over again!

  • September 20, 2011

    OMG, kissing the fish, EW!!! So gross, but that whole celebration looks wild and fun. Also I can’t believe that girl shaved her head. Very brave. She actually pulls it off!

    • September 21, 2011
      Kristin

      Funny enough, the fish “bit” one of the other participants. Actually, I think the “goddess” got a little too excited with her position of power and thrust it in his face, only it was a (dead) fish with teeth and cut his nose!

  • September 20, 2011

    I think I wrote enough on your page’s wall post, but again, it was great to live this experience through you. It is quite different and a lot more exciting I think to see how SAS does the ceremony compared to most US Navy ships nowadays. We are so worried about hazing and PC here that our ceremonies seem very watered down, pardon the pun.

    Wrote about my own Wog Day and posted pictures after you inspired me:

    http://www.scenewithahart.com/oceania/wogday/

    • September 21, 2011
      Kristin

      From what I understand, theirs have become, too–it used to be actual fish guts, scales, the works, but someone’s theory was that you have to be so careful avoiding potential lawsuits these days (“I got fish juice in my eye and now I’m blind…I’m suing!”). I will check out your post when I have a bit more bandwidth on shore…I’ve had a hard time loading any blogs while at sea!

  • September 21, 2011
    Briel K.

    Looks like a fun and crazy day! Are they going to donate the hair that was shaved to anyplace? Seems like a lot of hair wasted if not!

    • September 21, 2011
      Kristin

      Yes, of course! All the hair is going to Wigs for Kids.

  • September 21, 2011

    I was wondering whether they still shaved heads. I’d hate to see all your pretty blond hair gone, though, so I’m glad you didn’t do it! Still, looks like a really fun day.

  • September 23, 2011

    OMG what an experience! I don’t even know what to say to this haha. I’ve often dreamed of shaving off my hair. Would love to see after the years of straightening and curling and dying what my real hair looks like and to be able to get ready in about 2 minutes…bliss!

    • September 23, 2011
      Kristin

      Funny, I logged onto Facebook the other day, and you know how sometimes it shows you random photos of your friends in the sidebar for no reason at all? Well, it showed one of you with your hair about chin length, and I’d totally forgotten it had ever been that short! I feel like your hair has been long always!

  • October 1, 2011

    Wow! Such fun! Gorgeous photos as always too.

  • August 23, 2012
    haidang

    omg how did i miss this post? i would have a conniption too if you shaved your head. kiss that fish some more!

  • December 8, 2012

    I’m scared. I’m pretty tame when it comes to partying and such – with or without drinks. Hopefully I can become more spirited.

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