Sunday, July 1, 2007

Crossing the Line

13 June 2007

Its Wednesday. And we are in the Southern hemisphere. We’ve actually been in the Southern hemisphere since 8.00.40hrs local time yesterday, and I have photographic evidence of the fact. (see below)

Yes, all those zeroes at the top mean that we were plumb in the middle of the waistband of the world .. and since we only stayed there for something less than second, and that my Kodak has a delayed reaction of an amount which I have never been able to quantify, you will understand that enormous algebraic skills (or something) were put into use in order to capture that moment at which everything begins to turn the other way.

Yes it does. The story about the bathwater going down the drain the opposite way in each hemisphere? It’s true. I actually knew it was true, because I can remember, years ago, on one of my ships, standing at the sink in my cabin watching and waiting as we crossed the equator. OK, so its not instantaneous, but it happens And its not just the bathwater, cyclones do it too, and so do the oceans’ currents. That I didn’t know, but our beloved Captain, with the aid of an orange and a felt tipped pen, demonstrated what is known as the Coriolis effect (or was it force?) for us in the bar before supper on the relevant night, and Dion dug up the right spelling of the damn thing in the Mariners’ Meteo Manual on the bridge, so that I (who thought it had an h in it) wouldn’t make an idiot of myself in this blog.

Since leaving Panama, life has been wonderfully uneventful. Well we did have some rain, but since we’ve hardly seen any on this trip, that was more a diversion than anything else. So a day inside, which I put to good use taking a lesson from Lyndall on how to upload music on to my computer. This experience made me realise that I should be profiting from being surrounded by young folk to expand my computer horizons. Today I have been introduced to ‘memory sticks’ for the first time, and perhaps more significantly to the ‘ipod’. Michael (age: 20) was able to download the whole of the 480-part photo archive that I’ve put together since setting out in March onto his ipod, and can now dole out the various pictures that the other lads (and lasses) would like to have to them at leisure. After supper, I shall pillage Lyndall’s photo store…
Ah! Modern science….

Otherwise its been the usual blue, calm sea and warm to scalding days, punctuated by the usual food, drink and exercise mental or physical. Feeling that it was now safe to go out of the house without a shirt again, I spent a whole day up on deck sunning myself. The result will be visible below… I am somewhere between Mexican and Maghrebin, and (with a little assistance from my Hoar Cross Hall SOS cream, and the Hawaiian tropic sunblock brought on by the agent at Panama) I sort of glow in the dark.

If the first days out of Panama were uneventful, one certainly couldn’t say the same for yesterday. Apart from crossing the line, with all the ceremonial that entails, we had two birthdays to celebrate – our Biddy from Zimbabwe, who was hitting more milestones that day than the equator – it was her 70th! – and Sacha, **** perhaps the rotundest of our crew, but with height to match and the classic teddybear gentleness as well. And, apparently, it was also Russian Independence Day. Although no one could tell me independence from what.

We started our busy day, straight after breakfast, on the bridge deck, toasting Biddy in early morning champagne and awaiting the precise second of our arrival in the Southern hemisphere. That precise second which I have preserved for eternity and the blog, above. After which everyone retired to his or her cabin for a personal experience of the Coriolis business.
The next event was the day’s Main Event. At 3.30pm the ship’s complement was summoned, by King Neptune himself, issued (or so one would imagine) from the waves, to attend his court on the poop deck. Well, old salts like yours truly know what that means. It means a rather messy ceremony, redolent of the old army and university ‘initiations’, involving the usual sort of indignities practised on the usual sort of victims, in this case anyone who hasn’t crossed the equator by sea (planes don’t count). Now, the principal sacrifical cows today were clearly going to be our very own Tikeibank Fab Four – the cadets Grev, James, Dion and Michael – but there had been all sorts of veiled threats and hints coming out of, in particular, the purser’s department for the past weeks, so one wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Particularly as I had a shrewd suspicion that the ‘rules’ could very easily get bent.

Anyway, the victims of the day had two things in their favour. Firstly, there were ladies aboard, which meant some of the umm more extreme bits of the ‘initiation’ process were out. And secondly … King Neptune – imposing in an ankle-length ‘grass’ skirt, a fish net, some Xmas decorations, a tin foil crown and a cottonwool beard -- bore a striking resemblance to birthday boy Sacha!

The Fab Four were the first to come under the trident of Neptune. Our bondage man, Steve the purser, soon had them (reasonably) tightly tied to a set of plastic chairs … the Captain read out a list of their Misdeeds to date … and then it all began .. first the ordeal by vinegar (wouldn’t have bothered some NZ wine drinkers), followed by raw vodka (we think!), then the oceanic barber! Michael and Grev got their initial shaved into the back of their head .. Grev was given an impromptu Mohawk, James a couple of handles over his ears and Michael .. well, I’m not sure what Michael’s was supposed to be, but he also got part of his luxuriant chest done as well (although it stopped there, in modern day fashion) ... Dion, whose rather impressive haircut obviously impressed Neptune as well, escaped more lightly.

Then came the goo. I think its flour and water, coloured with cochineal, but it’s the sort of stuff you see being flung round the stage in pantomimes, and its clammy as all get out. Bosun Yevgenyi, equipped with two casseroles and a huge ladle, supervised operatons as the filthy stuff was poured down back and chests – INSIDE the boiler suits (and here was another part, thanks to the ladies, which was abridged from the days of my experiences) – after which Oleg, the ***** brought out the ship’s firehose. I suppose you could call it ‘pressure cleaning’ but his idea didn’t seem to be very cleansing. A thorough dowsing was more to the point.

At the end of the affair, when the lads lined up for a ‘team photograph’ with King Sacha, they were drenched, coloured and sporting a very original set of hairstyles!

The second set of victims went through much of the same routine. Minus the barbering. This time it was Natalja and Viktoria, the two ‘new’ stewardesses, Lyndall – in spite of the fact that she was sure that she had popped across the Equator at the age of three or so – and Philip, a genuine novice. This round was a tad less boisterous, although it can have been no coincidence that the Bosun let the hose linger on Lyndall’s chest much longer than normal until it was quite clear to all that under the sodden yellow T-shirt was a dark blue bra! Sorry, boys. The splendid Natalja didn’t even wait for the same treatment .. she quite candidly hoiked her T-shirt up ..

Philip put up a great show.. and, by the way, thank you, Philip. I have just a tiny suspicion that if you hadn’t got on at Panama that, in spite of my long Equatorial record, that 4th chair might just have been filled by me. That’s what I meant about bending rules. Next time I must bring my 1972 Neptune certificate, just in case!

Although, come to think of it, I need a haircut.

Postscript: Michael has today solved his bad hair problem by simply shaving his head. I suspect that dinner time may see a few more tonsorial changes in the cadet department!
Double postscript: It did! We have three monks! Grev somehow doesn’t look any different .. but I didn’t recognise James. Hmmm. I wonder if Dion will be allowed to ‘survive’…

No comments: