King Neptune cleanses sailors as they cross the Equator for the first time

Nearly 900 sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp were “cleansed of their slime” Nov. 25 after participating in the age-old ceremony of crossing the equator.

The “crossing-the-line” ceremony is an exclusive maritime experience from the days of hardened sailors aboard wooden ships courageously venturing out into the unforgiving environment of the open ocean.

Also Read: These are weird Navy traditions and their meanings

The tradition holds that when King Neptune, a mythical god of the sea, detects an infestation of “pollywogs” — those who have not crossed the equator before — he deems it necessary to take control of the ship to rid it of this plagued condition. A “shellback” is a sailor who has previously crossed the line, and the most senior shellback aboard the ship plays the role of King Neptune in the ceremony.

Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Thomas Kreindheder, who earned the title of shellback in 1993, was King Neptune for the Nov. 25 ceremony.

Ceremony Has Evolved

“The ceremony has changed a lot since I went through,” he said. “Our ceremony lasted 48 hours, and it was more of an initiation than a camaraderie event. Our goal with this ceremony was to make sure the sailors were challenged both mentally and physically, but were also smiling and laughing the whole way through. The photos of the event prove that we accomplished that goal.”

Sailors participate in a crossing the line ceremony aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). The crossing the line ceremony is a naval tradition which recognizes when members of the crew cross the equator for the first time. Wasp is transiting to Sasebo, Japan to conduct a turnover with the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) as the forward-deployed flag ship of the amphibious forces in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Sean Galbreath/Released)

Sailors participate in a crossing the line ceremony aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Sean Galbreath)

Wasp pollywogs were guided through a series of physically and mentally challenging obstacles, led by the 137 shellbacks aboard. Upon completion, pollywogs were summoned by King Neptune and his royal court and relieved of their slime, successfully completing their journey to shellback.

‘A Cool Experience’

“It was a cool experience,” said Navy Airman Apprentice Skyler Senteno. “I was skeptical at first. But there were a lot more events than I thought, and I really enjoyed it. It was an honor to be part of the tradition and become a shellback.”

The crossing-the-line ceremony traces its origin to a time when such a feat was a grave undertaking. Today’s technology allows sailors to be more at ease with their sea travels. Even then, the time away from family, especially around the holidays, can take its toll.

Also Read: Here are the meanings behind 19 classic sailor tattoos

“Ceremonies like crossing the line are invaluable for the crew. They instill pride and a sense of accomplishment that links Sailor to those that have gone before us,” said USS Wasp Command Master Chief Petty Officer Greg Carlson. “The ceremony has evolved to over the years to one of teamwork and unity, which allows sailors to craft memories that they will cherish forever.”

Wasp is transiting to Sasebo, Japan, to conduct a turnover with the USS Bonhomme Richard as the forward-deployed flagship of the amphibious forces in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.

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