I was amused to read of what may have been the first ship to achieve Golden Shellback status, way back in 1899. Larry Lambert brings us the tale.
The passenger steamer SS Warrimoo was quietly knifing its way through the waters of the mid-Pacific on its way from Vancouver to Australia. The navigator had just finished working out a star fix and brought Captain John DS. Phillips, the result. The Warrimoo’s position was LAT 0º 31′ N and LONG 179 30′ W. The date was 31 December 1899.
“Know what this means?” First Mate Payton broke in, “We’re only a few miles from the intersection of the Equator and the International Date Line”. Captain Phillips was prankish enough to take full advantage of the opportunity for achieving the navigational freak of a lifetime. He called his navigator to the bridge to check & double check the ship’s position. He changed course slightly so as to bear directly on his mark. Then he adjusted the engine speed.
The calm weather & clear night worked in his favor. At mid-night the SS Warrimoo lay on the Equator at exactly the point where it crossed the International Date Line! The consequences of this bizarre position were many:
- The forward part (bow) of the ship was in the Southern Hemisphere & in the middle of summer.
- The rear (stern) was in the Northern Hemisphere & in the middle of winter.
- The date in the aft part of the ship was 31 December 1899.
- In the bow (forward) part it was 1 January 1900.
This ship was therefore not only in:
- Two different days,
- Two different months,
- Two different years,
- Two different seasons
- But in two different centuries – all at the same time!
Wikipedia confirms the story, but notes that due to the less-than-precise navigation methods of the time, there’s no way to confirm that SS Warrimoo was in the right place at the right time. Nevertheless, in the absence of anything to disprove her claim, I’m going to assume it was correct.
Those “crossing the line” (i.e. the Equator) on board ship are initiated as “Shellbacks”, with varying degrees of special status within that classification. There are “Golden Shellbacks”, who’ve crossed the Equator and the International Date line simultaneously; and the “Royal Diamond Shellback” (known in the USA as an “Emerald Shellback”) for crossing the Equator and the Prime Meridian (zero degrees latitude) at the same time. Crossing the Arctic Circle qualifies one as a Blue Nose, and a Red Nose if you cross the Antarctic Circle. There’s a long list of titles awarded for various combinations, in various countries.
I “qualified” as a Shellback in the 1970’s, and as a Golden Shellback a few years later, aboard a ship doing “interesting” things in a part of the world where I never was, if you know what I mean. The “ceremony” was interesting, in the Chinese curse sense of the word! I’ve never forgotten the taste of used engine-room grease spread on the belly of the Royal Baby (which initiates were forced to “kiss”, as in having their heads shoved face-first into the ample belly of the fattest man on board, thickly coated with the stuff). Never again, thank you!