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Page Title: Naval Terms and Customs -Continued: Crossing the Line - Flag at Half-Mast
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Naval Terms and Customs -Continued: Chains - Coxswain
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Naval Terms and Customs -Continued: Forecastle - Gundecking
CROSSING  THE  LINE The boisterous ceremonies of crossing the line (equator) are so ancient that their derivation has been lost. It is said that this custom had its origin in  offerings  to  pacify  the  deities  of  the  sea  by mariners  who  thought  that  gods  and  goddesses controlled  the  elements. Today  when  naval  ships  cross  the  equator, those  members  of  the  crew  (called  “polliwogs”) who  have  never  before  crossed  the  line  are initiated by the more experienced members of the crew  (called  “shellbacks”).  The  usual  formula  is for the shellbacks to attire themselves in strange costumes representing Neptune, Amphitrite, and other mythological gods and goddesses of the sea. A  court  is  held  among  Neptune’s  subjects,  and the   novices   are   summoned   to   trial.   The   fate administered to each is in the nature of ridicule, such  as  a  parade  of  the  person’s  particular idiosyncrasies  and  a  caricature  of  the  person’s foibles. The victim is usually lathered with some frightful concoction, shaved with a wooden razor, and  ducked  backward  into  a  tank  of  water.  The victim   is   then   issued   a   certificate,   signed   by Neptunus  Rex,  documenting  the  fact  that  the person  has  crossed  the  line  and  is  now  a  full- fledged   “shellback.” CUT OF HIS JIB The nationality of the early sailing ships was frequently  determined  by  the  shape  or  cut  of  their jib  sails.  Use  of  the  phrase  as  applied  to  man originally  referred  to  his  nose—which,  like  the  jib, is the first feature of its wearer to come into view. Ultimately  it  was  extended  to  describe  a  man’s general  appearance. DIPPING THE ENSIGN Dipping the flag in salute is a relic of an old- time  custom  of  merchant  vessels.  These  vessels were   required   not   only   to   heave   to   when approaching a warship on the high seas, but also to clew up all their canvas to indicate the ship’s honesty  and  willingness  to  be  searched.  Since delays   resulted,   the   rule   of   dipping   the   flag was  authorized  in  later  years  as  a  timesaving substitute.  Ships  of  the  U.S.  Navy  return  such salutes  dip  for  dip,  except  for  dips  rendered  by ships   under   the   flag   of   nations   not   formally recognized by the United States. No ship of our Navy initiates a dip. DITTY  BAGS A ditty  bag  (or  box)  was  originally  called  a “ditto  bag”  because  it  contained  at  least  two  of everything: two needles, two spools of thread, two buttons, and so forth. With the passing of years, the  “ditto”  was  dropped  in  favor  of  “ditty”  and remains  so  today. Before  World  War  I,  the  Navy  issued  ditty boxes made of wood and styled after foot lockers. These boxes carried the personal gear and some clothes  of  the  sailor. Today the ditty bag is still issued to recruits. It  contains  a  sewing  kit,  toiletry  articles,  and personal  items  such  as  writing  paper  and  pens. DUNGAREES In the past dungaree referred to a coarse kind of fabric worn by the poorer class of people and also  used  for  tents  and  sail.  We  find  it  hard  to picture our favorite pair of dungarees flying from the mast of a sailing ship. However, in the early days  of  sailing  ships,  sailors  often  made  both  their working  clothes  and  hammock  out  of  discarded sail  cloth. The cloth used then wasn’t as well woven as that of today, nor was it dyed blue; but it served the  purpose.  Dungarees  worn  by  sailors  of  the Continental navy were cut directly from old sails. The dungarees remained tan in color, just as they had  been  when  filled  with  wind. After   battles,   the   captains   of   both   the American and British navies reported more sail lost  in  battle  than  actually  was  the  case.  This practice  provided  the  crew  with  cloth  to  mend their hammocks and make new clothes. Since the cloth was called dungaree, clothes made from the fabric  were  called  by  the  same  name. EYES OF THE SHIP In  the  early  days  the  bows  of  ships  usually were  carved  to  resemble  heads  of  mythological monsters or patrons. The fore part of the ship was called the “head.” The term  eyes of the ship  was derived from the eyes of the figures carved on the bow. FLAG  AT  HALF-MAST During times of mourning in old sailing days, ships displayed loose, suspended yards and slack rigging.  The  ships  purposely  exhibited  this  lax appearance to show that grief was so great that AII-4

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