There are no milestones on the open ocean, only arbitrary lines we have invented to help us feel some sense of place.
On 14 July 2019 at 02:48:51, the SSV Robert C. Seamans crossed one such boundary.
On 14 July 2019 at 02:48:51 the location of the SSV Robert C. Seamans was 00° 00.000’S, 169°02.391’W.
On land, we celebrate milestones of time more than place: birthdays, graduations, marriages, retirements. There are often parties and social media posts. People send cards or gifts. Society celebrates you.
On 14 July 2019, the students and crew of S-287 celebrated the equatorial crossing, most of us for the first time, guided by those who have been here before. In maritime lore, sailors who have crossed Neptune’s Line have been judged worthy by the Sea King, and count themselves among the rank of Shellbacks. The marking of this achievement is most notably known to involve a trip to the ship’s barber. Suffice it to say that many snips of ponytails (and sometimes more) were enthusiastically tossed into the deep blue by their former owners. There was also a pretty spectacular oreo cake honor of the other milestone of the day—happy birthday Izzy! The joyful camaraderie on deck as we took in the sunset this evening is what you would expect from achieving such a milestone, and the memory is sure to be a lasting one.
But I want to take you back to 02:48:51. A Watch had the deck. All who were willing to sacrifice precious hours of sleep were awakened for the moment of crossing, and nearly all of us sleepily bumbled up to the quarter deck. There we began our toast of the occasion with a steaming pot of Cocoa Samoa. As our GPS flashed 00° 00.000’S for that brief moment on our way northward, a cheer went out across the waves. The stars and nearly full moon accompanied us, lighting the horizon so far as to make it seem we were surrounded by endlessness. There is no red line, no neon sign, no stone to mark where those have gone before, just the same waters we sailed on yesterday, and the same we will sail tomorrow.
We may all be Shellbacks now, a community with a pretty unique shared experience, but as I looked out at the miles of moonlight reflecting on the waves, I thought about all the other milestones being met on this passage: the personal goals of all the voyagers aboard, all the challenges they are confronted with in each new task or circumstance and what lessons they will take from their successes and their struggles. As I have gotten to know our students, their aspirations for this trip and for their lives are as diverse as the zooplankton in our neuston tows, and there is no better moment onboard as witnessing what was once wonder become reality. Not all of these moments are marked with fanfare or applause, and some may not be for others to know at all, but they could only have happened here, way out here, where on 14 July 2019 at 02:48:51 the SSV Robert C. Seamans crossed the equator.
Here’s to S-287, Shellbacks, one and all.