The Longest Ride – Part V: Bumboats in Port Said

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. 

Port Said, Egypt, November 30, 1946. © Charles Lord

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.

The S. S. Carroll Victory attracted bumboats like a magnet in Port Said harbor, November 30, 1946. © Charles Lord

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.

Bumboat activity, Port Said, Egypt, November 30, 1946. Photo by Paul Beard.

“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.

Seagoing cowboys barter with Egyptians for souvenirs on the S. S. Carroll Victory, November 30, 1946. © Charles Lord

With camera bag in hand, Charlie Lord looks longing to shore in his newly purchased Egyptian fez. Photo courtesy of Charles Lord.

“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.”

Sailboats lining the harbor at Port Said, Egypt, November 30, 1946. Photo by Paul Beard.

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.”

Seagoing cowboy Maynard Garber beats the tropical heat with a book, December 1946. © Charles Lord

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)

The Longest Ride – Part IV: Risking Danger to Tour the Holy Lands

On its way from Greece to South Africa to pick up a load of UNRRA horses, the S. S. Carroll Victory docked in Haifa, Palestine, for boiler repairs. The ship arrived in the harbor the night of November 26, 1946, during a volatile time of unrest between the Jewish underground and the British who had ruled the country since 1918. The seagoing cowboys, eager to see Jerusalem, wanted to get to shore. The Carroll Victory waited for hours, however, before a pilot finally got the clearance to move the ship into port around 2:00 p.m. the next day.

“We went gradually into the harbor, between the long breakwater with its machine-gun nests and the shore,” Charlie Lord said. “Rumors began to fly as to when and if we would get shore leave. Supper came and went, and we became more and more anxious. We heard we might not get ashore because of the shooting between British and Jews the night before. At 7:00 Mr. Roth sent out word that the passes had arrived.”

The ship’s departure was set for 6 p.m. the next day. The cowboys debated whether to go ashore that night or wait until the next morning, as a curfew was in effect from 6 or 7 p.m. They decided to go by night so they would have more daylight hours to see the sights. “British soldiers told us it was very dangerous to take a truck ride to Jerusalem because of possible land mines or thrown bombs,” Lord said. They hired a truck anyway, as no buses or trains were running after curfew. After some time in Haifa, twenty-seven of the crew met at 10 p.m. and “squeezed into the truck and sat down on the wooden floor packed like sardines.”

Carroll Victory cowboys touring the Holy Lands, packed in the back of a truck, November 28, 1946. © Charles Lord

They arrived in Jerusalem around 5 a.m. Thanksgiving Day and found a restaurant where they had breakfast. At dawn, they made the short drive to Bethlehem. A guide took them on a quick tour to the site of the oldest Christian church in the world, the site of the manger where Jesus was born, and the spot where Herod had all the two-year-old babies of Palestine killed. “Most of the village looks modern,” Lord said.

A star in the floor marks the spot where Jesus was thought to have been born. © Charles Lord

The cowboys met at the appointed time and made it back to Jerusalem by 9 a.m. “We rolled past the countless building projects of Jerusalem, the barbed wire rolls and British soldiers, the railway station with smashed windows and cement from a Jewish bomb,” Lord said. “We stopped near the center of the city, set our departure time at 12:30.” Some of the group engaged a guide who “knew how fast we would have to go to finish by 12 o’clock.” He set a whirlwind pace through the temple area and old Jerusalem, with Lord shooting pictures as he walked—up and down long flights of steps, through heavy traffic and subterranean tunnels “for three solid hours,” he said. “If you stopped for an instant it meant running to catch up.”

Viewing the Mount of Olives from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, November 28, 1946. © Charles Lord

A woman at the Wailing Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, November 28, 1946. © Charles Lord

On their daylight drive back to Haifa, “the scenes along the way were lovely,” shipmate Harold Jennings said. “Arabic tents everywhere, desert lands, camel caravans . . . then banana trees and orange groves with modern irrigation systems.” It was a land of contrasts.

Camels have their front legs tied until loading is complete says Carroll Victory cowboy Paul Beard. Photo by Paul Beard.

The cowboy crew made it back to the ship by 5:15, only to learn that departure had been delayed until 4 p.m. the next day. This gave the cowboys the opportunity to go to Nazareth, as well, and for some to the Yagur Kibbutz near Haifa.

A street in Nazareth, November 29, 1946. © Charles Lord

A Bedouin tent village in Palestine, November 29, 1946. Lord coaxed the bus driver to stop on the way back to Haifa so he could get some photos. © Charles Lord

As Lord, back on board the Carroll Victory after his first excursion, wrote of his experiences in Palestine to his wife, he noted, “A depth charge just shook the ship under us. They are to keep Jewish frog-men from putting mines under English ships.” Not a very consoling thing for his wife to hear, I’m sure. For the seagoing cowboys involved, their excitement about touring the Holy Lands overrode any concern about the potential dangers facing them on their travels. They safely departed Haifa at midnight November 29 and headed for Port Said, the Suez Canal, and Africa.