A momentous occasion in any sailors’ career, the Clipper Race fleet has officially crossed the equator.

The equator is a 24,901-mile-long line that is equidistant from the North and South Poles, with over half of it spanning across the world’s oceans. The eleven Clipper 70s will cross the equator twice on their circumnavigation, providing two opportunities for Race Crew to experience an infamous crossing the line ceremony.

A mystical time-honored tradition, as sailors cross the imaginary line from 00 00.000'N to 00 00.000'S it is said that Slimy Pollywogs (those who have never crossed the equator) emerge as Trusted Shellbacks (those that have).

Image: Mystical blessings for the Race Crew

A reason for celebration, folklore states that an on board ceremony should include a mandatory meeting of all Pollywogs in King Neptune’s court, where they announce the sins they have committed on board, request safe passage, fair winds, and following seas throughout Neptune’s domain. The ceremony ends with Pollywogs being made to eat, wear –or sometimes both! - a lumpy, bumpy, sloppy galley concoction as they pay homage to the keeper of the seas.

Image: Happy shellbacks on board UNICEF

Our Isles and Oceans, Race Crew member Frankie Townsend said “All the crew were on deck, when King Neptune emerged from the companion way declaring that we must confess our sins before transforming from Pollywogs to Shellbacks. We had to transcend from the pit of chaos under the traveller, before declaring our sins to Neptune; a huge range was declared from chatting too much at the helm, poor poetry and leaving smelly socks under their bunk.

“After which, he dished out our punishments, couscous (one of the crew’s least favourite meals) and an assortment of other things were thrown at us before he declared us Shellbacks. It felt very special to have this shared experience amongst the whole crew, taking part in a hundred of years old sailing tradition (with Tom’s interpretation) together, and this included the Skipper, as it was also his first equator crossing. It was a fun moment, and one that I won’t forget quickly.”

Image: Celebratory equator cake

Ken Michie on board Bekezela said “We passed over the equator at around 7:30pm boat time. I was worried that the keel might get stuck on it but apparently not an issue (who knew!). No signs or shops selling fridge magnets etc... Just a great big cheer and a rendition of: who are we, Bekezela, who…You know the rest.”

The traditions soon followed, as Bekezela Skipper David Hartshorn reports “Sacha, acting as an assistant for King Neptune’s representative, when instructed, dumped a large dollop of some hideous mixture of porridge, custard powder and other bits on the Pollywog’s head. They then had to renounce their Pollywog status, crawl under a line in the cockpit (representing the sacred line – the equator). They then swore an oath, to serve King Neptune, the boat and this crew, then duty anointed a “Trusted Shellback” All toasted with a can of coke from the freezer.”

Image: King Neptune and his newly acquainted Shellbacks on Perseverance

Over on Dare To Lead, the crossing the line ceremony was described as a “memorable ceremony”. AQP Charlie Warhurst said “I'm happy to announce we’re now a full crew of happy Shellbacks!

“We each took it in turns to say our vows renouncing our status as Pollywogs, gave a toast of Fanta or Coke to Neptune and the boat in return for a safe passage with fair winds and following seas. Then we were handed a lovely cup (or jug in my case) of a concoction Ryan and Retief had both been carefully making for the last watch, consisting of that morning’s remaining porridge, the day prior’s boiled eggs, some chilli and then something to make it turn a creamy yellow? I'm not entirely sure how they made it taste and it felt so bad running slowly down the cup to your mouth and then seemingly even slower down your throat, but everyone did just about manage to keep it down with helpings of the fizzy drinks to wash it down.”

UNICEF AQP Laura Hampton said “Our ceremony was orchestrated by Skipper Dan, representing King Neptune, Zina as Aphrodita and Hans as the baptiser of the forgiven. Each Pollywog admitted their sins, ate some of the mystical dish and crawled under the traveller to be baptised with fresh equator water by Hans.

Image: Salt water shower fun on UNICEF

“The ceremony from afar seems strange, but at sea we take no risk with superstitions, and must pay homage to King Neptune, in whatever bizarre way the Shellbacks see fit. We have only been at sea for 16 days now, but the immense sense of community on board shows in these moments.”

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