Attention All Scoundrels and Pollywogs

Yesterday I got an e-mail entitled ‘ATTENTION ALL SCOUNDRELS AND POLLYWOGS.’ As I read it, I realized I was being summoned before King Neptune’s Court. I had never crossed the International Dateline before this trip, and so in the eyes of Neptune I was a pollywog—an insignificant landlubber with no business being at sea. I was going to be tried for trespassing.

This is an age-old sailing tradition—when a ship crosses the dateline, the equator, or either of the polar circles, all the first-timers have to submit to be tried before the veteran sailors, who dress up as members of King Neptune’s Court. The trials themselves are shrouded in secrecy.

In some ways it’s a foolish tradition, but there’s a reason it has lasted so long. On ships there is little to do except work and few places to go to escape your shipmates. Opportunities to break the routine and forge connections between sailors help morale, encourage friendship, and offer a change of pace.

Nowadays the opportunities for recreation onboard aren’t as limited, of course. Read on through the slideshow to see some of the ways people have fun on the ship:

Listen to Bill Jirsa singing ‘Ivan the Terra Bus,’ recorded in the Palmer’s aft control room today:

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Avatar of Hugh Powell

About Hugh Powell

Hugh is a staff writer at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and is on special assignment with the Rutgers University Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences. He has previously written for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

12 Responses to “Attention All Scoundrels and Pollywogs”

  1. Congrats on your escape from the court! I hope to find myself trapped by the King one day…

  2. Zachary from Holy Family School February 4, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    King Neptune’s Court? Wow, sailors come up with the oddest traditions…

  3. Shan from Holy Family School February 5, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    I never knew there were so many things to do on a ship! I especially liked the King Neptune tradition. What is your most favorite thing to do on the ship?

    • Avatar of Hugh Powell

      I asked several scientists this, and every one of them said their favorite thing is talking to all the other scientists about the things they’re seeing here. This expedition brings together people from many different institutions who don’t get to see each other very often. They’re all experts in different fields, and so they each have different ideas and knowledge to contribute to understanding what’s going on here. It keeps the conversations exciting and helps new ideas develop, which is always fun.

  4. Pants from Holy Family School February 6, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Hi. What is a King neptune?

    • Avatar of Hugh Powell

      Hi, the ancient Romans believed that Neptune was the king of the sea. Any sailor who ventured into the ocean had to hope that Neptune would be merciful to him.

  5. Brendan from Holy Family School February 7, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Wow it looks like there is a ton of books! I love to read myself and was wondering what your favorite book is?

    • Avatar of Hugh Powell

      Hi Brendan, great to hear you love to read, it’s one of the best leisure activities there is. I have lots of favorite books, but a fairly recent book I really loved was Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susannah Clarke. What’s yours?

  6. Thats cool how you guys crosed Neptunes Court but what is it

    • Avatar of Hugh Powell

      Hi Tyrik, Neptune’s Court is where King Neptune sits and passes judgment on all the pollywogs who have crossed the International Dateline for the first time!

  7. John from Mrs. Smith's 5th Grade Class February 8, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Wow that is so interesting!!!