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The Arctic Initiation Ceremony

BAFFIN BAY – Did Chloe lose her hair? Did they shave my eyebrows off?? Did we walk a gangplank into the ocean??? Did Mark even participate?!? The answer to one of those questions is yes. Can you guess? Well, if you've seen the photos then you know it's the last one. The crossing ceremony was (finally, and more on that later) held yesterday afternoon. Ultimately it was harmless and in good fun. But that doesn't mean we didn't suffer. Read on for more.

At dinner (remember that's at 11:30 a.m.) the rumors were flying fast and furious. We heard about needing to wear coveralls over old clothes, possibly getting "wet," and something about swearing our allegiance to King Neptune. By 1 p.m. the captain made an announcement, ordering all uninitiated crossers to gather in the aft lounge. We donned our coveralls and waited like lemmings before our march. To be honest, all the waiting and scuttlebutt was the worst part. For days leading up we'd wondered what might happen (and admittedly teased Chloe about her impending hair cut...OK, repeatedly). That all culminated in the lounge where we further sweated it out. We later learned that of course that's part of the fun for the Coast Guard crew – making it all seem much worse than it really is. They intentionally delayed it beyond the actual day we crossed the Arctic Circle. And here I thought it was because of a science conflict or something. Historically, it hasn't always been such an innocent experience. Even 25 years ago they weren't dropping fake hair into your lap when you heard the razor, it was all yours. But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.

We sat in the lounge in our coveralls, and in groups of six or so we were led by one of the sergeant-at-arms (a Coast Guard seaman with a wooden gun) to another holding pen. Chloe was in the second-to-last group, and I was in the last. There were about 28 of us in total.

Mark was in the first group so he could go through it and then film it. I envied him getting it over with early! By the time they brought me up I'd accepted my fate and figured it couldn't be that bad. (Though I did hear a few yelps from the upper deck.) In the second seating area we were told to blindfold ourselves, and I must say the "gruff" sergeant-at-arms was most polite, allowing me to tie two blindfolds together in order to fit around my head without losing circulation. Then, more waiting. Did I mention it was the most stressful part?! Eventually I heard my dad's voice, and he helped me up and escorted me towards King and Queen Neptune's court. At that point, I got a bit nervous, knowing almost everyone else had endured it and would likely be there to watch. Stage fright? Call it performance anxiety.

Here is what I was told to do while blindfolded in the order it happened, and afterwards I'll reveal what was really done: "First, a quick hair cut and trim of the eyebrows! Then to show your respect for the Queen you must kneel down and kiss her smelly fish feet! Now you must admit your previous misgivings and ask for forgiveness! Move over here, and walk the gangplank to the very end. Careful, it's only 8 inches long! Ha ha!! And finally you will be placed in the stockade, where you will eat a seal's eyeballs and be covered in whale guts…"

Allow me to pull back the curtain. Yes, we sat in a chair and, yes, people ran razors over our head, but if you recall from paragraph two it was just an act. Kissing Queen Neptune's feet really meant kissing some pickled herring or sardines. I actually like pickled fish, though it was an odd sensation to "kiss" it. The gangplank was just a piece of wood, but being blindfolded did give you the illusion it could drop off into water at any moment. It didn't. Oh, and by the way the whole time I was carefully escorted by a Coast Guard crew member, who gave me precise movement directions. It was when I got to the final stage that I thought I'd be funny. I said, "Is this the part where I get to turn around three times and make a wish"? Al Jarvis, the Coast Guard crew member conducting the ceremony played along and said, "Sure, and what is your wish?" That's when I said it was for him to disappear. Again he played along and said no problem. That's when I got suspicious.

And here's why: I was placed in the stockade (not locked, by the way) and Al passed over his duties to Chloe, who gleefully took over. She'd already been through it, and so she carried out the final stage, which was... being covered in eggs, tomato sauce and some combination of seafood (and maybe some other foodstuff), the "seal eyes" were olives, and it was all followed by a chilling and strangely refreshing bucket of water. The blindfold was then removed, and the chief mate welcomed me aboard the Louis.

Not only was the ceremony less tormenting than many carnival-style haunted houses, it was carried out in a safe and respectful manner. It's also voluntary and a long-standing maritime tradition, not just with crossing up north but also with other major navigational lines around the Earth. I never felt really degraded or humiliated, and in fact was actually honored to finally join an elite group of people, one of who is my dad, as someone who crossed the Arctic Circle by ship. (Plus it was all concluded with a huge BBQ of steak and lobster in the helicopter hanger, though not before we each took a very long shower.)

Oh, and I will remember how enthused Chloe was to rub egg in my hair. Of course, revenge is best doled out over time. And we've still got 9 days ahead...

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