Archives can be real treasure troves, especially when you’ve forgotten all about it. And then, one day, an encounter with a blast from the past, a trip down memory lane, and it is all back in the flash. Thanks to the diligent archiving efforts of a former crew member who recently unearthed many of the 1/2″ tape decks containing old QE2 films from the 80s, Cunard Queens was able to restore and convert some of them for Flagship Video. Those tapes usually didn’t hold up well over the years and some of them may not be of very good quality but we pleased to say that the King Neptune’s Court Ceremony filmed on March 9, 1984 during the World Cruise has survived in remarkably good quality. It has now been converted and added to the Flagship Video collection.
Have you ever crossed the Equator on a vessel or cruise ship? Then you most likely know about the ‘Crossing the Line Ceremony’, or ‘King Neptune’s Court Ceremony’ as it is called on the Cunard ships. If you’ve attended a King Neptune’s Court ceremony our latest Flagship Video may bring back fond (or messy) memories, and if you’ve never witnessed the ceremony, then watch and you will be enlightened… It’s not for the faint hearted for sure. I have seen some rendition executed in the later years onboard QE2 which sadly were so sanitary and politically correct and gentle, that it makes one realise what a great show the earlier ceremonies were.
The Crossing the Line Ceremony is traditional for all vessels when they cross the equator. It refers to a belief in the god Neptune or Poseidon and his willingness to let (or not) a ship continue on it’s journey: A ceremony takes place whereby King Neptune is asked to grant safe passage of the ship and her crew. The tradition actually goes back to the 13th century and was originally created as a test for seasoned sailors to ensure their new shipmates were capable of handling long rough times at sea. All members of the crew regardless of age or rank who have not crossed the equator before must take part in the initiation ritual. The ritual has taken on many forms which evolved over the years.
The crossing of the equator involves elaborate preparation by the “shellbacks” (those who have crossed the equator before, sometimes also referred to as Sons of Neptune) to ensure the “pollywogs” (those who are about to cross the equator for the first time) are properly indoctrinated. All pollywogs, even the Commanding Officer if he has not crossed before, must participate. They are required to go before the Court of Neptune, where their sins are read out, and the punishments bestowed.
In the old times, these rituals were quite brutal and sometimes fatal. On ocean liners and cruise ships these are being carried out for the passengers’ entertainment. Indeed the sailing from the Northern into the Southern part of the world (or vice-versa) became a very special event.
On Cunard ships, no World Cruise would be complete without a King Neptune’s Court Ceremony, commemorated in a play involving some quirky characters: King Neptune, the Judge, the executioners , policemen (dressed in British Bobby uniforms) and nixes. During the ceremonial process the prisoners would be brought forward to the swimming pool where the Captain and senior officers are waiting to greet King Neptune and his Consorts. On QE2, passengers who are Pollywogs are invited to kiss the fish ( a large salmon ) and then step into the swimming pool. They are then Shellbacks. Staff are dealt with differently, involving spaghetti and coloured sauces, as well as kissing the fish. It is a very messy affair, much to the delight of the onlookers. I don’t envy the crew who had to clean up afterwards! Everyone is awarded a certificate for crossing the line.
But back to the video: The King Neptune’s Ceremony is filmed during the 1984 World Cruise, en route to Mahe, Seychelles. Cruise Director Bob Haines is King Neptune, DJ Stuart Barton is the Judge, Bob Dougherty and Steve Green as well as a couple of others whose names I don’t know are the executioners.
To watch the video, click on the Cunard Queens Logo below and select the video.
Below, to complement the video, are some photos from the 1985 and 1986 ceremonies, courtesy of Stuart Barton:
King Neptune’s Court 1985
Cruise Director Bob Haines taking an unexpected bath.
The ‘before’ photos
A soon to be Shellywag is looking forward to a dip into the pool