Nassau Pollywogs Become Shellbacks After Crossing the Line Ceremony

Story Number: NNS060214-02Release Date: 2/14/2006 12:12:00 PM
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By Journalist 1st Class Ardelle L. Purcell, Expeditionary Strike Group 8 Public Affairs

USS NASSAU (LHA 4), At Sea (NNS) -- Sailors aboard USS Nassau took part in an historical Navy tradition when the ship conducted a crossing the line ceremony while on deployment in support of maritime security operations (MSO) in the 5th Fleet area of operations, Feb. 7.

Due to operational commitments, the traditional Shellback Ceremony, celebrating that moment when a ship crosses the equator from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere, known as "crossing the line," took place when Nassau returned to the Northern Hemisphere. The ceremony commemorates a Sailor's first crossing of the equator.

A traditional rite of passage ceremony carried out to appease King Neptune, the mythological god of the seas, the ceremony was originally created as a test for seasoned Sailors to ensure their new shipmates were capable of handling long, rough times at sea. Those who have already crossed the equator at a previous time during their Navy career are deemed "trusty shellbacks," sons and daughters of Neptune. Those who have not are called "pollywogs."

Despite Nassau's busy operational schedule, Senior Chief Aviation Boatswain's Mate Raymond Reynolds, the ceremony coordinator, was determined to conduct a crossing the line ceremony.

"Becoming a shellback is a significant milestone in a Sailor's career," said Reynolds. "With less than 200 trusty shellbacks onboard and 1,000 pollywogs, I wanted to make sure we followed all the rules, guidance and directives for the crossing the line ceremony."

According to Reynolds, while the ceremony was toned down compared to ceremonies from many years ago, it still hasn't lost its meaning.

"The ceremony still has the same theme to it," Reynolds said. "I wanted to make sure it still reflected our great naval traditions, the history of why we do the ceremony, and the rite of passage to say 'I'm a shellback.'"

While West Coast ships routinely cross the equator on deployments, East Coast ships such as Nassau, home ported in Norfolk, Va., face much greater odds of crossing the equator during a deployment. Due to commitments in support of MSO, this deployment provided many Sailors with the opportunity of a lifetime.

"For me this was a first, believe it or not," said Master Chief Aviation Boatswain's Mate Amos Harvey. "Being on an East Coast vessel that rarely gets a chance to cruise into that part of the world, conducting a crossing the line ceremony was extremely important. After 24 years of naval service, five ships, six deployments, all on East Coast ships, I finally got the opportunity to participate in a crossing the line ceremony and can now say I'm a shellback."

Nassau Sailors had a good time while learning the history and tradition of crossing the line and becoming a shellback. The new memories of the ceremony are enough for a lifetime.

"We didn't cross the equator last cruise, but I heard a lot of stories about it," said Storekeeper 3rd Class Jayda O'Kelly. "I thought it was nice and extremely fun. I saw the kid in everyone who participated. I laughed a whole lot. It is definitely a memory I will hold on to for life. I can't wait to tell my son this story when I get home."

USS Nassau deployed in early November as the flagship of Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 8 and is currently conducting MSO as part of Commander Task Force 150 in the 5th Fleet Area of Operations.

MSO help preserve the free and secure use of the world's oceans by legitimate mariners and prevent terrorists from attempting to use the maritime environment as a venue for attack or as a medium to transport personnel, weapons or other material that could support their efforts. In addition, coalition assets like Nassau also assist mariners in distress as part of MSO.

For related news, visit the Expeditionary Strike Group 8 Navy NewsStand page at

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