The crew are mustered in the waist [aft of the mainmast] and the captain in on the poop [aftermost deck] when a cry comes from somewhere forward:
“Ship ahoy! Ship ahoy!”
“Who hails us?” demands the skipper in a foghorn bellow.
“Tis Father Neptune,” says one of the men.
“Bring him aboard, then,” orders the skipper.
Now there is seen coming aft a strange company led by Old Neptune himself. He wears a beard and wig made of yellow rope-yarn, and one tattooed hand grasps the shaft of a boat-hook, which serves him for a trident. Over his body is draped part of an old sail held at the waist by a leather belt, into which is thrust Neptune’s razor, a huge comic-opera weapon made of hoop-iron and wood. In his wake come, first, Amphitrite, his wife, a masculine-looking ‘female,’ and then his henchmen, carrying a large tub, which will be filled with water. Before the gathered men Neptune halts and delivers himself somewhat like this:
“You have greenhorns on board this ship who have never been shaved and baptized by Neptune; so let them stand forth.” Then each victim in turn is seated on an upturned bucket while the ancient buffoonery in gone through. First he is asked his name, and while his lips open to frame the words a dirty swab covered with soapsuds and grease is slapped into his mouth and liberally applied to his face. Then comes the shaving with the comic-opera razor, after which he emerges a tyro no longer. He has crossed the Line, and now may call himself a deep-water sailor.
— Stanley Rogers “Sea-Lore” 1927
In “Seafaring Lore & Legends,” Peter D. Jeans observes that in the 18th and early 19th centuries, it was more of an ordeal for novices rather than just a bit of fooling around; roughhousing was the order of the day and woe betide any unpopular members of the crew — invariably they had the worst of it.