Saturday, February 09, 2008

Crossing the Equator on the Cunard Queen Victoria

Those who cross the equator at the 180 degree longitude are called, we are told, golden shell backs. At 180 degrees longitude, the distance east or west is equal, on a great circle route of navigation, to Greenwich, England, the point of the 0 degree longitude.

We were pollywogs who practiced for our initiation, which included “kissing the fish”, the day prior to our crossing the zero degree latitude at about 170 degrees longitude.

Unlike the sailors of the 18th and 19th centuries who knew when the reached the equator but were unsure as to the longitude, our ship’s global positioning system, let the captain sound the ship’s whistle, knowing both longitude and latitude, as we crossed the line.

After passing the zero degree latitude and passing from winter in the northern hemisphere to summer in the southern hemisphere, we became “shell backs”, those duly initiated as having crossed the equator by sea.

Prior to our crossing the equator, we wasted a great deal of the ship’s supply of water watching the direction of the water draining in our sink. It drained clockwise. After crossing the equator, we noted that the water continued to drain clockwise, thereby debunking the myth that water drains clockwise or counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere and the other direction in the southern hemisphere.

The Coriolis effect that helps explain the direction of rotation of winds such as cyclones in each hemisphere does not apply to the direction of water emptying our bathtubs and sinks.

We have confirmed that it is true that after passing the equator on a southerly heading, the temperature does increase and it is summertime in the South Pacific. We wore coats on deck in the northern hemisphere and we wore shorts and t-shirts on deck in the southern hemisphere.

Mr. Wizard, the American TV teacher in the 1950s, would be proud of us in conducting our experiments relative to the equator. What, we wonder, are the other facts and myths involving crossing the equator?

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