The Line Crossing Ceremony

Informant Information — DD

  • Nationality: American
  • Age: 68
  • Occupation: Professor
  • Residence: San Pedro, California
  • Date of Performance/Collection: March 20, 2022
  • Primary Language: English

The informant grew up in San Pedro, CA, a port town where a large proportion of the town works on/near the water. He has sailed as a hobby and professionally for more than 50 years. He is still active in his town’s boating community and keeps up with sailing magazines, books, news, etc. The informant shared this information with me in an in-person interview.


Are there any “big” moments or rites of passage for sailors?


One big moment for all the sailors I grew up with was the first time you crossed the equator. That was one of the ones that all my friends and I looked forward to, especially because it’s a long journey from San Pedro for a little sailboat. 


Are there any special activities or rules that you have to complete/follow when you cross the equator for the first time? Who did you hear these rules from?


I first heard about all the excitement of crossing the equator from the older sailors at the port. I’ve heard of a few different things you can do to celebrate… the most common one is probably that you have to jump in the ocean, which I did with my friends when we finally made it there. That was really fun and exciting.

I’ve also heard of wilder things, like shaving your head or drinking an entire bottle of rum in one night… both of those things were too crazy for me. I didn’t want to shave my head and I definitely didn’t want everyone on the boat to be drunk at the same time when we were so far from home. Or worse, hungover and risking getting seasick. 

Usually though, you have to at least do something to celebrate, since it’s such a cool thing to have done as a traveler. Crossing the equator definitely brings you a little bit more respect, too. It means you’ve traveled pretty far and gained some experience, because going that far South and back is not an easy journey. 


I can definitely understand wanting to celebrate crossing the equator as a milestone for sailors. My informant described it as a really exciting trip but tough enough that he didn’t want to do it more than a few times in his life, so it must be a pretty uncommon and special experience. However, this is also an example of how different folk groups highlight different experiences as important or special– if you lived very close to the equator, crossing it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. I would imagine that the rite of passage activities are proportionate to the journey, getting more intense as the distance to the equator increases.