Cruise 2023 - Journey to the Golden Shellback, Pt. I: The Ceremony

First of all, I would like to say thank you to those who have "followed the voyage" up until this point in our cruise. The last month has been quite an adventure, full of new experiences for all who are aboard. I also want to say thank you for your patience with this blog - we have been very busy preparing for the Golden Shellback, as it proved to be a monumentous event on the TSGB.  It has been years since the TS Golden Bear last ventured to the location of the Golden Shellback, and we collectively (staff, crew, cadets, and faculty alike) have all been very excited to participate in this historical event - for the first time for many of us, and for those who have done it before, but get to revisit it on this cruise.

To give a brief history, the Golden Shellback is an old Navy tradition. Inexperienced sailors who arrive where the 180th meridian meets the equator are said to go from "Pollywogs" to "Golden Shellbacks" after participating in a ceremony. Fun fact: there are about eight different types of shellbacks, and many more navigational achievements recognized in the maritime world. When sailors cross the equator, they become shellbacks and ceremonies are often held for that as well. As we crossed the equator earlier in our voyage, and then the 180th meridian at the equator, we chose to commemorate the Golden Shellback achievement as it is more rare. In modern times, the Golden Shellback tradition is often overlooked, as the location is far off course from regular shipping routes and there is not much military action happening all the way out here. There is not much reason for ships to make this voyage today. In the photo below, you will see how close we got to the exact spot.

180th meridian meets the equator

Photo courtesy of Commandant Jimmy Moore

Because of past events with the Golden Shellback ceremony and negative connotations associated with it, we took great care to ensure that this was a positive experience for all aboard, that no hazing occurred, and we ensured that people were more than welcome to participate if they so chose, but participation was not required. Above all, safety and respect were our priority for the day. We made sure that all events occured safely, and that people were respected whether they chose to participate or not. All in all, it was a wildly successful and fun day. 

The events for the day happened in three stages, so there will be three respective posts to capture the energy of each stage. This post will showcase the photos and events from the Golden Shellback ceremony. Part II will showcase the photos from the Sinbad Games, an annual cruise tradition. Part III will showcase photos from a wedding that occurred at the Golden Shellback location (more to come on that!). 

We started off our Golden Shellback ceremony with a late formation. Uniforms were not required, so cadets wore costumes and divisional shirts that they made themselves. Our senior Golden Shellback, Chief Mate Doug Nagy gave a short speech with a brief history of the tradition, and introduced King Neptune and Davey Jones.

King Neptune and Davey Jones

From left to right: Dr. Bets McNie, Chief Engineer Adam Kleitman, Bosun Anders Bland (Davey Jones), Professor Dave Satterwhite (King Neptune), and Captain Samar Bannister

From Pollywogs to Golden Shellbacks

Boiler suits were worn inside out for the ceremony.

Captain Bannister


Captain Samar Bannister, Chief Engineer Adam Kleitman, and Commandant Jimmy Moore being immersed in Golden Shellback seawater. 

John Prose

After we were blessed by the sea, we then had our tongues sprayed green with Shellback Juice (lemonade and green food coloring) to show that we were no longer pollywogs, but trusty shellbacks.

Shellback juice

shellback juice

Following the Golden Shellback ceremony, King Neptune and Davey Jones hid inside the ship to start the scavenger hunt, which kicked off our next event of June 11th - the annual Sinbad Games.

Check back often and follow the voyage with our blog series that gives the latest news from Summer Cruise! The TSGB will travel to Los Angeles, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, Apia, Samoa, Hilo, Hawaii, and Astoria, Oregon prior to returning to Vallejo on July 7.

Stay tuned for updates to the Follow the Voyage blog.

Established in 1929, California State University Maritime Academy is the only degree-granting maritime academy on the West Coast. Located in Vallejo, California, the campus serves nearly 1,000 students and offers undergraduate degrees preparing students for careers in engineering, transportation, international relations, business, and global logistics. The new oceanography degree program launched in the fall of 2020. Cal Maritime also offers a master’s degree in Transportation and Engineering Management, as well as a number of extended learning programs and courses.