Getting from Greece to South Africa meant going through the Suez Canal for the seagoing cowboys on the S. S. Carroll Victory. When they arrived in Port Said, Egypt, they had hoped the ship would take long enough to get its orders to enter the Canal that they would have time to explore this modern city and do some shopping for souvenirs.
A short four hours in the harbor, however, did not allow time for shore leave. But they needn’t have worried—the shopping came to them. The bumboats that bustle around many Mediterranean ports teemed around the Carroll Victory after the ship anchored in the bay.
Charlie Lord describes the scene in a letter to his wife: “Egyptians immediately swarmed over the sides from row boats and motorboats like the pirates of yore. They threw ropes up from the boats and began pulling up all kinds of trinkets and goods to sell and trade.
“They had leather goods of all sorts including suitcases, hassocks, billfolds, handbags and blackjacks. They had inlaid-wood boxes, knives, rings and bottles of Spanish fly. You know what that is don’t you? Very handy for sailors when in port to give young girls. They had copper rings with glass or quartz, something which would cut glass anyhow, which they sold for gold with 3 diamonds. One cattleman gave 2 shirts and a pair of pants for one. Harry says he gave a sports coat, 2 shirts, and 6 pair of socks for his, worth about five cents perhaps. One of the stones fell out at lunch. I looked at a suede leather woman’s handbag, the Egyptian asked a lot, I said less and got it. So please don’t buy a new handbag.
“The ‘pirates’ stole everything they could lay their hands on,” Lord said. “We had our portholes locked and door locked all the time thank goodness. Lots of seamen lost clothing. The third junior mate said the men bring all their stuff aboard just so they can get on to steal things.”
The sailboats in port captivated the seagoing cowboys. “There was a line of hundreds of sailboats, with the longest curving masts,” Lord said. “They made a dramatic picture.”
Lord’s shipmate Harold Jennings noted in his diary, “Entered the Suez Canal at about 1 o’clock today. Weather supposed to get warmer from now on out.” And that it did.
One day out of Port Said, Lord wrote home, “Cattlemen and crewmen busied themselves making hammocks and swings in which to enjoy the warm sun. Men peeled to polo shirts and shorts or just shorts. The weather is wonderful so far.” His tune changed two days later. “Yesterday was very hot,” he said. “A head wind blows smoke from the stacks back on the aft part of the boat and every single thing is covered with the fine black grit. If you pick up a book, the cover feels like sandpaper.”
Four days after crossing the Equator and after enduring 11 days of heat with little to do, the sight of Durban, South Africa, on December 11, 1946, lifted the spirits of the restless cowboys. Another foreign world awaited them.
(to be continued)