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 Neptunes 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 persons particular
idiosyncrasies and a caricature of the persons
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-
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 nosewhich, like the jib,
is the first feature of its wearer to come into view.
Ultimately it was extended to describe a mans
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 ships
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.
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.
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
The cloth used then wasnt 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
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