The Time 14 Cargo Ships Were Trapped in the Suez Canal ... for Eight Years

iStock
iStock

Egypt and Israel had a salty relationship in the mid-20th century. In 1967, war broke out between the two and Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula next door. In response, Egypt attempted to cripple the Israeli economy by blockading the Suez Canal with sunken ships, mines, and debris—trapping 14 unlucky foreign cargo ships in the canal for eight years.

Marooned on the canal's Great Bitter Lake, the ships—British, French, American, German, Swedish, Bulgarian, Polish, and Czechoslovakian—“clustered in the middle of the lake like a wagon train awaiting an Indian attack,” reported The New York Times [PDF]. Israel controlled the east bank of the canal; Egypt, the west. The sailors watched helplessly as both sides exchanged gunfire and rockets over their heads.

“We were in a very comfortable prison,” Captain Miroslaw Proskurnicki of the Polish ship Jakarta said. “The first month was like a holiday. The second month was very hard. By the end of the third month, it was terrible.” With nothing to do besides clean the ships and do basic maintenance, the boats puttered aimlessly around Great Bitter Lake in an attempt to keep the engines well-tuned. With nowhere to go, the crews eventually set aside their homelands' differences, moored together, and formed an unofficial micronation of sorts, calling themselves the “Yellow Fleet,” a reference to the windswept sand that piled on their decks.

Each ship adopted a special duty to keep the "country" running smoothly. The Polish freighter served as a post office. The Brits hosted soccer matches. One ship served as a hospital; another, a movie theater. On Sundays, the German Nordwind hosted "church" services. “We call it church,” Captain Paul Wall told the Los Angeles Times in 1969. “But actually it is more of a beer party.” (The Germans received free beer from breweries back home.)

Beer was the crew’s undeniable lifeblood—one of the few things to look forward to or write home about. “In three days we tried Norwegian beer, Czechoslovak beer and wine and Bulgarian beer and vodka,” Captain Zdzislaw Stasick told The New York Times in 1974. In fact, the stranded men drank so much beer—and tossed all of the bottles into the lake—that sailors liked to joke that the lake’s 40-foot deep waters were actually “35 feet of water, and 5 feet of beer bottles.” As the British captain of the Invercargill, Arthur Kensett, said: “One wonders what future archaeologists in a few thousand years’ time will think of this.”

It was like adult summer camp. The men (and one woman) passed the time participating in sailing races and regattas, water-skiing on a surfboard pulled by a lifeboat. They played bingo and cricket and held swim meets. It was so hot outside, they regularly cooked steaks atop 35 gallon drums. During the 1968 Tokyo Olympics, they hosted the “Bitter Lake Mini-Olympics,” with competitions in weightlifting, water polo, air rifle shooting, high jumping, and, of course, swimming. (Poland won the gold.) During Christmas, they installed a floating Christmas tree and lowered a piano onto a small boat, which roved around the lake and serenaded each ship. The Yellow Fleet dubbed themselves the “Great Bitter Lake Association” and made special badges. They even had a club tie.

By the mid-1970s, much of the cargo the vessels had been carrying was rotten. The original shipments of the remaining wool, rubber, and sheet metal—which had been loaded in places as far away as Australia and Asia—were no longer needed. The Yellow Fleet resembled a ghost town, manned by world-weary skeleton crews.

Their patience was rewarded. By 1975, approximately 750,000 explosives had been successfully removed from the Suez Canal, making escape possible. The Great Bitter Lake Association disbanded, and the vessels of the Yellow Fleet finally returned to their separate homes. But by that point, the crew had learned that, no matter your circumstances, home is truly where you make it.

To Avoid Grocery Shopping, Quarantined Americans Are Reviving Wartime-Era Victory Gardens

Zbynek Pospisil/iStock via Getty Images
Zbynek Pospisil/iStock via Getty Images

For many people practicing social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the supermarket is the one place where it's practically impossible to avoid crowds. When they do brave the stores, shoppers may struggle to find what they're looking for, with panic buyers clearing shelves of everything from pasta to produce. Though the circumstances are different, citizens across the country are responding to the novel coronavirus outbreak by reviving a trend from the First and Second World Wars. As The New York Times reports, victory gardens are making a comeback.

Victory gardens started in 1917 as a way to supplement the commercial farming disrupted by World War I. As farmers became soldiers and farms became battlefields in Europe, the U.S. agricultural industry suddenly found itself responsible for feeding its own citizens as well as its allies abroad. Encouraging people to plant crops in any available space they could find—including rooftops, parks, backyards, empty lots, and fire escapes—was a way to lighten the burden.

The U.S. government formed the National War Garden Commission weeks before joining the war. Over the next couple of years, pamphlets were distributed to citizens showing them which seeds to plant and how to protect them from pests and diseases. One booklet read “The War Garden of 1918 must become the Victory Garden of 1919.”

Thanks to the effort, 3 million new gardens were cultivated in America in 1917 and 5.2 million appeared in 1918. The initiative resurfaced during World War II, and again, it was a huge success. At its peak, home and community gardens were producing nearly 40 percent of all fresh vegetables in the country.

For more than 70 years, victory gardens only existed as a footnote in history books, but now, they're seeing a resurgence. The U.S. isn't at war, and as of now there's no risk of the country running out of food, but the chaos and fear surrounding trips to the grocery stores are inspiring many people to turn to their own backyards. As many industries are struggling, seed companies are seeing a spike in business. Organizations dedicated to gardening are also seeing the trends. Soul Fire Farm in upstate New York normally builds about 10 community gardens outside homes, schools, and churches a year. But since the start of the novel coronavirus crisis, they've received 50 requests for community gardens.

A home garden is only useful in times of national hardship if it actually produces something. If you're interested in building a sustainable home garden and limiting your trips to the supermarket, here are some easy plants to start with and gardening mistakes to avoid.

[h/t The New York Times]

6 Times the Olympics Have Been Postponed or Canceled

Sander van Ginkel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Sander van Ginkel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo have been officially postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan agreed to push the start date back to 2021 after Canada, Australia, and other countries announced they would not send athletes to the Summer Games this July.

The Summer Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world, typically bringing more than 10,000 athletes from dozens of countries together every four years, The New York Times reports.

It's extremely rare for the Summer or Winter Olympics to be postponed or canceled. Since 1896, when the modern Olympic Games began, it has happened only six times—and it usually requires a war.

The Olympic Games were canceled during World War I and World War II. The 1940 Summer Games, scheduled to take place in Tokyo, were postponed due to war and moved to Helsinki, Finland, where they were later canceled altogether. The current coronavirus pandemic marks the first time the competition has ever been temporarily postponed for a reason other than war. Here's the full list.

  1. 1916 Summer Olympics // Berlin, Germany
  1. 1940 Summer Olympics // Tokyo, Japan and Helsinki, Finland
  1. 1940 Winter Olympics // Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
  1. 1944 Summer Olympics // London, United Kingdom
  1. 1944 Winter Olympics // Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
  1. 2020 Summer Olympics // Tokyo, Japan

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER