I’m a Golden Shellback, and proud of it!


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!



  1. You can fly from Hawaii to Fiji great circle and hit the Emerald Shellback, I'm also a Blue Nose. Friend of mine is both a Red and a Blue nose!

  2. Crossed the equator 4 times, still a pollywog. Never been one for initiations, and didn't kiss a**, so there was some folks who were planning on having 'fun' with me. I declined to play. There was talk of making me, but it stopped when I pulled my knife and started sharpening it. (My ship allowed us to have 4" clasp knives, I kept my Buck sharp enough to shave with.)

    Just like I stayed a pollywog, I stayed a PO1. Told the chief board that I don't do initiations, don't promote me, and they didn't. Never 'tacked on' rate, didn't put up with getting it either. Not sorry, it's who I am.

  3. Several time shellback and several time bluenose.

    In Norway, they sell a liquor that is one price when it leaves the distillery, but they load several containers of it on ships, sail to the Southern hemisphere with it, and can ask quite a bit more per bottle, since it has crossed the equator (twice).

  4. I've crossed the equator four times underwater and twice in the air, and the International Date Line twice each way. Also a Plankowner and Order of the Ditch for taking our submarine thru the Panama Canal.

    We never got far enough north for a Bluenose but we had ice in the bilges in June so we were pretty close.

  5. My late father in WWII crossed the Equator in the Pacific Ocean on a troop ship to India. After the war he crossed the Equator in the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean aboard a Liberty ship en route to CONUS. He didn't seem to find it a big deal.

  6. I've never crossed the equator aboard ship, but I've done it many times while flying. And I live only a few yards from the Greenwich Meridian so have crossed it again and again on foot. Do those count?

  7. The Royal Bath was the containment basin for our oil manifolds (which we used regularly), and then filled with seawater and galley waste a week before we crossed, to give it time to ferment.
    Luckily, our breakfast was SOS with onions and habaneros that morning, so my stomach was mostly empty. I had to do 2 laps in the bath, as I swam underwater for the first one. The second was on the surface.

    I was the Royal baby 3 few years later. Not sure which is better.

  8. Some of the best sea stories I've heard from former submariners started: "We were somewhere that doesn't exist, doing something that never happened…"

  9. Trusty crusty Shellback. Crossed the first time in 1984 and again 10 years later. Lost half my mustache the first time to the Royal Barber. The Old Man was also a wog and was two people ahead of me. Wild times.

  10. tweel, you are not the only one. I was disliked by a couple of d**kheads on board. The day before crossing the line, I was quietly informed by a friend that plans had been overheard that an "accidental injury" was planned for me. I declined to participate and wound up standing watch for eight hours while the ceremonies were conducted. I don't feel like I missed anything.

  11. Rey B: How small was your boat? I'm having trouble picturing a captain so junior as to be a wog.

    NRW: Tell! Tell! Even if it starts with "No sh!t, there I was…". The best stories, true or sea story, start out the same.

  12. FFG-23 Captain(Commander at the time) R.K. Martin had gone over 20, made full bird, and crossed the Equator all within a few days. About a week after that we pulled into Bunbury, Australia. Was a hell of a ride. He was relieved and went on to his next command upon return to San Diego at the end of Westpac 84

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