Shellback Commemorative Medal

Shellback Commemorative Medal

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Finally a Commemorative medal struck to honor those who have earned the title: Trusty/Honorable Shellback, often referred to as  a Son of Neptune

In the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, when a ship crosses the equator at latitude 00 00 there is a Naval tradition and event no former polywog ever forgets. Those who have been found worthy and inducted into the “mysteries of the deep” by  Imperium Neptuni Regis and his Royal court, count the experience as a highlight of their military career. Members of Neptunus Rex’s party  include Davy Jones, Neptune’s Royal Scribe, Her Highness Amphitrite his Queen, , the Royal Doctor, the Royal Dentist, the Royal Baby, the Royal Navigator, the Royal Barbers, the Royal Judge and other such members of his household that suit the royal party.

The rich Naval ceremony honoring sailors crossing the equator goes back centuries when such a feat was a grave undertaking and test for those who had not sailed across the equator. The ceremony often involved two days of events throughout which Pollywogs (or Wogs for short), the term given to those who have not crossed the equator before, are put through a series of initiation rites involving demanding and often embarrassing tasks, gags, obstacles, physical hardships, and generally good-humored hazing. The two-day event is a ritual in which previously inducted crew members called “Trusty Shellbacks” are organized into a “Court of Neptune” to induct the Slimy Pollywogs into “the mysteries of the Deep. If the wog passes Neptune’s test there is an elaborate ceremony with much pomp and the sailor is inducted into the “Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep” and  passes from Wog to Shellback.

Official entries indicating date, time, latitude and longitude are recorded in individuals  service record. The day ends with each of the new shellbacks receiving elaborate certificates testifying to their safe passage, along with a wallet-sized card to prove the fact on future cruises. They who lose their cards may soon find themselves climbing back into a wog pool on their next deployment.

All pollywogs, even the Commanding Officer if he has not crossed before, must participate.

The Crossing the Line ceremony is a special maritime experience, a relic of the of wooden ships and iron hard Sailors who venture into the unknown environment of the open ocean. The ceremony, as old as perhaps the very art of sailing, in all its pomp and unique charm and history, will hopefully remain an equatorial pastime to be treasured by generations of Sailors to come, so that they too can laugh about a chief they know who’s wearing a swab for a wig, holding a makeshift wooden trident, and speaking magnanimously about Pollywogs and Shellbacks and the “Ancient Order of the Deep.”

“The sea is eternal and sacred, and so are the traditions that accompany it,”. “As long as there are imaginary lines by which sailors travel, we will attach a special significance to crossing over them, a significance which bonds all blue water sailors together.”


Where do these colorful characters come from? Neptune (or Neptunus Rex, as he refers to himself during the ceremony) is the Roman sea god, who originated as the god of fresh water but later became associated with the Greek sea god Poseidon. Poseidon was one of three sons of Kronos: Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon were said to have cast lots for the three kingdoms of heaven, underworld, and sea. He generally appears with a trident (a three-pronged spear) and his consort, Queen Amphitrite. Triton, a merman son of Poseidon and Amphitrite, occasionally appears in crossing the line ceremonies as well.

Davy Jones has a number of stories concerning his origins. The Australians tell a tale of a fearsome pirate who sank to the bottom of the sea when crossing the equator and “now patrols the equator on his killer whale boarding any vessel that dares to pass the waters of the Kings Majestic Realm.” Some ceremonies list Davy Jones as King Neptune’s Royal Scribe, who verifies that each wog has indeed crossed the line. The most common tale is that he is the evil spirit of the sea, whose name came from a corruption of “ Duppy Johah,” duppy being the African West Indies name for “spirit” or “ghost” and Jonah being the Old Testament prophet who was thrown into the sea. To go to “Davy Jones’ locker” is to be buried at sea.  A third explanation comes to us from the British, along with a vivid description of his appearance in the Crossing the Line ceremonies:

Some English sailors incline to the belief that his name is a corruption of Duffer Jones, a clumsy fellow who frequently found himself overboard. The only time Davy comes to life is in the ceremony of crossing the line. Then he is usually impersonated by the smallest sailor on board, given a hump, horns and a tail, and his features made as ugly as possible. He is swinish, dressed in rags and seaweed, and shambles along in the wake of the sea king, Neptune, playing evil tricks upon his fellow sailors.

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