Crossing the Equator

January 28th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

We crossed the equator off the coast of Ecuador, the country named after it.  Fitting then to have the familiar ceremony that sailors have followed for centuries — the holding of a mock court on deck in which “King Neptune” inducts his ‘Shellbacks’ from the novitiate ‘Pollywogs’, who have never crossed the equator before. 

I’ve seen the induction a couple of times and it tends these days to be a cross between an Am Dram pantomime and a University rag, with the participants covered in shaving foam and thrown in a bucket of water (or pool if the boat is large and lucky enough to have one). 

It’s a far cry from the far darker account of the ceremony in William Golding’s novel Rites of Passage,  set in the early 19th century, when it was the rite that marked a licence for moral degeneration and foul deeds;  and quite recently there have been several episodes on naval boats where it’s clearly got out of hand – as evidenced by the fact that most navies have now had to bring in regulations that prohibit physical attacks on sailors undergoing the line-crossing. 

On civilian boats, it’s still a ceremony that is particularly enjoyed by those crew members who are rarely on deck — the engine room boys or galley staff, who hang from the rails with enjoyment as they watch their more unfortunate colleagues getting dunked in the foam and water. 

My own thoughts on entering the Southern Hemisphere are coloured by what has been happening in the Pacific below us.  That rare weather event, “La Niña”, the unruly sister of El Niño, has been brewing cold water in the centre of the Pacific which has in turn caused precipitation right across the basin and over to Brazil, whose terrible floods have been matched by ones in Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Australia. 

Bizarrely, the world’s media seem to have done little to relate to these floods together, treating them as isolated incidents of Candide-like irrationality, not the product of a uniform meteorological pattern.  Perhaps it’s time we stopped being so parochial in our weather reports and followed weather maps outside of the UK – indeed ones that crossed the equator.

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