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Neptune Day: Dare Ye Take the Shellback Test?

Stephanie Vagie and barber Jake FitzGerald

Screams and shrieks from the pool deck echoed throughout the ship Sunday morning, March 13,  as “Neptune Day” ceremonies kicked off and scurvy-ridden landlubbers who wanted to rise to the rank of “Shellbacks” even kissed fish.

Neptune Day celebrates the first time sailors cross the equator, even though the MV Explorer traversed the equator early on in the 104th voyage of Semester at Sea. During the celebration, sailors–eager SAS participants and crew members–are transformed from mere Pollywogs to Shellbacks if they pass a series of tests, including being doused with green slime from ‚Äúfish guts,‚Äù kissing a fish on the lips, and then kissing the rings of Queen Minerva of the Deep and the eerily green King Neptune.

The most daring even shave their heads.

I was one of the three “Royal Barbers,” thus giving me a front-row seat to the excited, nervous, and crying faces of everyone who sat down in the chair in front of me.  With electric clippers in hand, I began buzzing away. For the guys on the ship, a shaved head isn’t too far out of the ordinary—it means maybe having hair a little shorter than the usual.

But for girls, the situation was drastically different. I shaved six girl’s heads, and the other two barbers did the around the same number. It’s hard to pin down exactly why some girls decided to get rid of their hair, but it seems to fall into just a few reasons.

Many whose hair was long enough–and were willing–donated their locks to ‚ÄúLocks of Love‚Äù to make wigs for cancer patients. From what I saw, about 50 people donated their hair. The thought that instead of taking a full head of hair for granted, girls could donate their locks to a child in need, sparked enough of a will to shave it all off.

Some saw the option as a chance to show personal growth, while others did it as a spur-of-the moment lark—one that may never be as accepted as in the shipboard community.

“I did it because it’s the only time in my life that I could ever, ever, ever shave my head,” said Francis Menzer, a junior from the University of Pittsburgh.

Maybe three days from now, spur-of-the moment decisions will be regretted, or maybe they will be confirmed. Only time will tell. But it was a fun day, and they are now fully “Shellbacks.”

Story by Jake FitzGerald, a work-study student for the communications team. He attends the University of South Carolina.

  • Life at Sea

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