Fun and games at sea

by Priya Chandra

Hello from a newly minted shellback! That is the term for someone who has crossed the Equator, undergone the appropriate induction ceremony and been presented to King Neptune’s court.


On Saturday night we (the non-shellbacks or pollywogs) were split into 4 groups and had to present a 15 min skit to the shellbacks, held out on the flight deck. Our group did a Wiggles impersonation (I got to be a child in the audience) which was a lot of fun. We had the band in our group and they were spectacular. I was also extremely impressed by the Dorothy the Dinosaur costume and red car that were prepared, given we only had a few hours notice of this event. 


We, the audience, went first to form a group in front of the shellback audience. Then one of the Aussie nurses read out a poem introducing the Wiggles who came on in their red car to the sound of a car noise from the band. Then we all sang ‘hot potato’ though it was extremely hard to hear the singing over the band and the booing from the shellback audience.


Most of the Americans didn’t have any idea who the Wiggles are, and they were called everything from Skittles to the Tele-tubbies! I had a lot of fun though. We didn’t get to see the other skits – that was reserved for shellbacks only, but at the end of the 4th skit a representative from each group had to go and find out who’d won the talent show. It was not us 😦


One thing I found very interesting during the preparations for the skit was the American’s insistence that everyone ‘dress their gender’. No cross-dressing allowed.


A very early bed then as the induction ceremony was promulgated to start at 5am on Sunday morning, but none of us really believed that!


In the end, it was actually very civilised – we were all up by 5am and dressed by the time reveille was called at 0530. Dress for the Americans was back to front and inside out overalls with white, decorated t-shirts over the top and some sort of closed footwear. We Australians wore inside out and back to front uniform pants, 2 layers of t-shirts (no wet t-shirt competitions) and closed footwear. Just to be safe I had on gym pants under my uniform trousers just in case! I’d decorated my t-shirt with social media and Aussie slogans.  


There’d been a lot of briefings on what was and wasn’t acceptable behaviour so I wasn’t too concerned about the induction ceremony, and it did indeed turn out to be a lot of fun. Salty thanks to the copious amounts of sea water thrown over us, but a lot of fun.


We started off in the ‘well-deck’ which is the lowest part of the ship, sitting in our groups. There were some extremely well-decorated t-shirts on display from the pollywogs whilst the shellbacks had also gone to a lot of trouble. The Mission Commander was beautifully dressed as an old style pirate, sword and all.


Whilst sitting in our groups there was a lot of singing – this continued to be a theme throughout the entire event, and Row, Row, Row your boat was the most popular choice – and spray from the fire hoses. They were set to spray rather than full pipe so it didn’t feel too bad, except for the sea-water getting into one’s eyes. By the end of the event most of us had quite sore eyes from the sea-water and even now as I type this almost two hours and 1 shower later I can still feel the sea-water on my skin.


Form the well-deck we elephant walked up to the ladder. This involves crouching over, putting one hand between your legs for the person behind you to catch and catching hold of the hand of the person in front of you. There was a lot of emphasis on safety and sensible behaviour so we all walked properly up ladders, no running or unsafe walking practises allowed. There was also a lot of safety supervision by medical personnel and everyone was free to put their hand up at any time if they felt overwhelmed.


The rest of the ceremony consisted of stations – there was a leopard crawl section to get to ‘breakfast’ which was green eggs and ham (coloured food but i’m sure in a earlier time it would have been truly rotten food). I mentioned I didn’t eat meat and got pink porridge instead! It was yummy but given we were eating without hands or utensils I didn’t get to eat as much as I’d have liked.


Then there was a row boat, sitting and singing in a cage, pretending to be an aeroplane, stopping a leaking pipe, rescuing a drowning dummy, doing group sit-ups holding onto a log, lots of ‘swimming’ on the deck, squats holding barbells made of flying ‘chocks’ (those were heavier than I expected) and then finally the presentation to the Royal Court.


All done by 7:30 and straight into a shower to wash the gunk off me! A lot of fun though, and really well done by the USS Cleveland crew and other shellbacks. They made the event interesting, fun, and challenging without crossing over into personal denigration or ‘bastardisation’.


This afternoon we had a ‘steel deck BBQ’ which was essentially lunch out on the flight deck, with music provided by the US Band. It was really hot though and even I ended up with a red nose!


Not long before our first port of call now.


One Comment to “Fun and games at sea”

  1. So I guess it doesn’t count until you’ve crossed the equator by ship…all those flights to USA and Europe don’t count. Lucky, cause then you would have missed out on elephant waling up ladders…which sounds pretty darn hard. (no exclamation point, but intended).It’s good to know they can still keep up such a historical ceremony but a nice gentrified 21C version.

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