People often speak of drawing “a line in the sand,” meaning a boundary that cannot be crossed without serious consequences. Next week Skipper Rich Wilson will cross a line in the water. Although no one can see that line threading through the ocean waves, still the Equator constitutes a real borderline between the northern and southern hemispheres. At the Equator, the Sun and planets pass more nearly overhead, the temperatures at sea level change little with the seasons, and the girth of the Earth is widest. Perhaps most important for the person sailing from north to south, the Equator marks a ship’s passage into the mythic realm of King Neptune.
The slow winds—or no winds—in the so-called doldrums near the Equator left European sailors of centuries past plenty of time for mischief. The old experienced hands would put the new recruits through a rite of passage that could include smearing their heads with foul slops, “shaving” their faces with jagged bits of iron that pierced the skin, pouring salt water down their throats, flogging them, and pitching them blindfolded into makeshift pools (sails filled with seawater). One senior sailor would dress up as King Neptune and preside over the shenanigans. When the initiation was over, the crew headed into whatever dangers awaited them in the southern ocean.
On ships that observed such line-crossing ceremonies, no first-timer could demand exemption. Charles Darwin experienced the indignity aboard HMS Beagle in 1832, en route to his encounter with the interesting wildlife of the Galapagos Islands.
Rich has plunged southward across the line several times before. Even if he were making his first crossing now, there would be no one else aboard Great American IV to induct him —except, perhaps, old King Neptune himself.