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28 Oct - King Neptune's Court

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary

Position at 1200 (UTC - 3 hours): 19°24'N  39°05'W (35NM off Brazilian coast)
Next destination: Montevideo
ETA: November 03 2001, 1700 UTC.
Distance to go: 1331.5 NM
Total Distance Sailed this Season: 5013NM

Current weather: 
Wind:  SE x Force 2
Barometric pressure: 1017.4  mb
Sea state: Slight, vessel moving easily
Air temperature: 25.6°C.
Sea temperature: 24.6°C.

Ships position taken from the regular weather observations (only available whilst at sea, courtesy of Oceanweather.com). Callsign is ZDLS1 Select the South Atlantic area, and "Marine Observations".

Another exciting week onboard the Ernest Shackleton as the ship continues to head towards Montevideo.

Captain Lawrence welcoms King Neptune onboard.Tuesday afternoon, at 1607 UTC the ship crossed the Equator and entered the South Atlantic. A minor celebration was held by the FIDs onboard but, due to other commitments, King Neptune would not be arriving until the following afternoon and so at 1400 on Wednesday, as is the custom, King Neptune (Mark Jones) and Queen Amphitrite (Simon Hadgraft) welcomed onboard by Captain Lawrence.

The following extract from Spare Time at Sea by Ronald Hope, aptly describes the ceremony.

In 1471 the Portuguese Lopa Gonçalvez made history by becoming the first European to cross the dreaded equator, and he may well have celebrated that occasion in some fashion. The earliest mention of a baptismal, propitiation or initiation ceremony dates from 1529, though similar ceremonies are believed to have been customary in European waters before this time, being performed at such distinctive places as the Straits of Gibraltar, the Sound and the Skaw.

Crossing the equator in the days of sail was certainly an occasion for ceremony and thanksgiving for a ship might lie for weeks in the doldrums, and terrible things could happen 'under the line' from shortage of water and fresh foods.

Here is a description of the ceremony aboard an English ship in 1784:

"At noon the arrival of Neptune is announced; the marine deity is personated by a sailor bearing in his hand the trident, and seated in a car, which is no other than a water tub, drawn by some of his companions in the character of Tritons. The appearance of Neptune and his retinue is highly grotesque; their oozy locks are composed of long, half-wet swabs, bespattered with oatmeal, and their faces are painted with red ochre. On approaching the captain, Neptune demands the object of his voyage, and receives the customary tribute from those who have not crossed the line and choose to evade the ceremony of ducking and shaving. Meanwhile the intended victims, including such as have not obtained their freedom from neptune, are confirmed between the decks, from whence they are one by one dragged to execution. A large grog-tub, filled with salt water, is placed on one of the gangways, and over it is laid a plank, on which the novice is seated, whilst the barber besmears his face with a composition of tar and grease, and then scrapes it with part of an iron hoop instead of a razor. On the signal being given the plank is withdrawn, when the unfortunate wretch is immersed in water; from which he is not suffered to escape till he is menaced with suffocation"

No mention is made here of Queen Amphitrite, but the Queen invariably accompanies her husband, as Edmund Spenser shows in The Faerie Queene, written in 1590 and probably inspired in this passage by a court masque:

First came great neptune with his threefold mace,
That rules the seas and makes them rise and fall;
His dewy locks did drop with brine apace,
Under his diadem imperial;
And by his side his Queen with coronal,
Fair Ampthitrite,  most divinely fair,
Whose ivory shoulders were covered all,
As with a rope,  with her own silver hair,
And decked with pearls,  which th'Indian seas for her prepare.
These marched far afore the other crew.

The Court of King NeptuneThe Court of King Neptune, Sweeny Todd the Barber (Nick Greenwood), the King and Queen, and the Which! Doctor (Dave Taylor), with Captain Lawrence in the background.

This year King Neptune had six offenders to try and it has to be said that all of them put up a good and valiant struggle to remain free from the police and the court, but as is always the way no one escaped. At the end of the ceremony there was a sudden last minute addition to the list of those to be charged, when the Prosecutor for King Neptune (Third Officer Noel Lynam) was suddenly accused of the very same crime himself. This was due to his inability to produce a Certificate of Crossing the Line (claiming that he had accidentally left it on his last ship when it sank in the Orinoco River!!!) and so too he faced the wrath of Neptune.

...and now it gets messy!!! The dentist, Penny Granger, getting some slops!

Once the ceremony is completed,  all those who have crossed the line and met King Neptune are presented with a certificate,  which reads as follows:

I, Neptune,
being the true and rightful Monarch off all the oceans
and of all the creatures that dwell therin hereby bestow
upon that nobel and gallant mariner
who has crossed that line,
called the Equator,
which divides our hemispheres,
Let all who owe me allegiance
allow the above-named to pass
without let or hindrance
in pursuit of that which is truly pleasing.

During the late morning of Wednesday we also passed the beautiful island of Fernando de Noronha, which is very distinctive in its appearance. One of the good things of passing the island is the abundance of wildlife that can be seen.

During the approach the vessel was joined by a large number of masked boobies, which resemble the gannet, but has an all white head, black face mask, and broader, more extensive trailing edge to the wings. These birds prefer deep water for fishing, executing near vertical plunge dives which are spectacular to watch. Also, for a few hours only, three magnificent frigatebirds flew over the ship. These birds are about 1m in length with a wingspan of up to 2.4m. Skimming the water at the southern end of the island were a large number of noddies. The strangest bird seen, a few days beforehand, was a heron! This bird was sighted whilst several hundred miles from the nearest island, and some 350 miles from mainland Brazil. Its most distinctive feature were two white stripes down each wing. At present we are not 100% certain what type of heron this could have been, hindered in part by there being no herons listed in any of our seabirds reference books.

By Thursday the vessel was starting to work its way down the Brazilian coast, although not visible as we were up to 60 miles off to make best use of the currents.

Friday evening saw a slight change in the excellent weather that we have enjoyed so far. At 1600 the wind was ESE x Force 3 but by 1900 this had changed to SE'ly x Gale Force 8. This produced the well known pitching and rolling, to a moderate/rough sea. By 1600 on Saturday everything had calmed down once again and we had a nice S'ly x Force 3.

The Beaufort Scale

Sunday, 28 October, proved to be yet another lovely day and also one for outstanding wildlife spotting opportunities.

From first light through to about 1400 a large number of whales were sighted. Most of these were humpbacks and in groups of between two and four. During the period it was possible to look out from the bridge and see several groups and it is suspected that we must have seen up to several hundred of these lovely animals. One of the earlier sightings was just of a whale fluke (its tail fin) sitting above the water for about thirty or forty minutes as the animal lay suspended in the water, allowing us to pass close by.

Close up of a humpback whale. A close up of a humpback whale.This picture was taken in 1999 from onboard the RRS Bransfield.

Several breachings were also seen, where the whale leaps from the water and lands on its back, along with some water patting. Also seen was a large quantity of plankton sitting on the surface and it is this that the whales were probably following. The water depth at the time was fairly shallow, in the region of 50m.

Humpback fluke rising out of the water prior to diving.  The fluke showing as the whale dives.

The following are extracts from Whales of the World by Lyall Watson:

A long chain of hearsay, uninterrupted for generations by any hint of original observation, began in the early 18th century with something called the 'pflockfish'. In 1741 this was elaborated into Klein's 'balaena gibbo unico' (the one-humped whale); and by 1756 it had matured (still without the five authors catching even a glimpse of the animal dead or alive) into Brisson's 'baleine de la Nouvelle Angleterre'

Description: Length averages 14.6m for males and 15.2m for females. Calves are about 4.5m at birth. Adults average weight is between 30 - 40 tonnes, with a maximum of about 48 tonnes. Their bodies are robust, narrowing rapidly in front of the huge tail flukes. The head is broad and rounded. The normal family group is of three or four. Mating takes place on communal breeding grounds in warmer waters, usually in shallow bays within the 100m contour. Courtship is playful and splashy and often social, involving an energetic group that races along the surface at breakneck speed, churning the water up into turbulent knots of breaching, slapping whales. Sometimes the confusion ends in a single pair rising, with their flippers interlaced, belly to belly above the surface, clasping each other and holding that position for 30 seconds or more until they shudder and subside again. Humpbacks produce the longest and most varied songs in the animal world.

Forthcoming events: Arrive Montevideo, crew change and further passengers arrive to join the vessel for the journey south.

The next update will be written on Sunday 4 November

Mike Gloistein ETO(Comms)