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.
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.
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...