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

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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.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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10 Revolutionary Facts About Abbie Hoffman

Abbie Hoffman visiting the University of Oklahoma to protest the Vietnam War.
Abbie Hoffman visiting the University of Oklahoma to protest the Vietnam War.
Richard O. Barry, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Court jester-cum-political revolutionary Abbot “Abbie” Howard Hoffman is one of the most well-known figures of the Flower Power movement. Hoffman—a fierce opponent of the war in Vietnam; a staunch environmentalist; and a firm believer in leftist causes like wealth redistribution, universal health coverage, and ending homelessness—was a bombastic and theatrical figure who often used absurd media stunts to get his points across.

Hoffman has been portrayed by a handful of actors over the years, but none has ever been as fitting as Sacha Baron Cohen—our generation's own bombastic satirist—who has taken on the role in Aaron Sorkin's The Trial of the Chicago 7, which is streaming on Netflix now.

Here are some facts about Abbie Hoffman, who once wore a police uniform underneath a judge's robe to his very own trial.

1. Abbie Hoffman fought his high school teacher for calling him "a Communist punk."

Hoffman got an early start as a disruptor. In high school, he wrote a paper in favor of atheism, in which he claimed that "God could not possibly exist, for if he did, there wouldn't be any suffering in the world." His teacher took offense, called Hoffman "a Communist punk," and Hoffman physically assaulted him, leading to his expulsion from the school.

2. Abbie Hoffman studied under Abraham Maslow.

Thomas Altfather Good via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Despite his personality being, in his own words, "halfway between the gun factory and the circus," Hoffman managed to graduate from his next high school and went on to Brandeis University, where he studied psychology under Abraham Maslow, creator of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. He also studied under Marxist theoretician Herbert Marcuse, whose ideas had a great impact on Hoffman's politics.

3. Abbie Hoffman played collegiate tennis.

While at Brandeis, Hoffman was ranked high on the school's tennis team. His coach was Bud Collins, who would go on to become a famous sportscaster, and who joked that the radical Hoffman was conservative on the court.

4. Abbie Hoffman is the reason there's bulletproof glass at the New York Stock Exchange.

On August 24, 1967, Hoffman and several other activists infiltrated the New York Stock Exchange to throw money (real and fake) down at the trading floor. It was one of the earliest instances of Hoffman and his cohorts using comedy to make a point. Though the stunt only lasted a few minutes, it got enormous media attention. A few months later, bulletproof glass was installed to, among other things, prevent people from dropping satirical objects on the trading floor.

5. Abbie Hoffman tried to levitate the Pentagon.

Political activists Abbie Hoffman and Jane Fonda talk at a 1970 demonstration in Washington, D.C., protesting the recent violence used to breakup a Vietnam War protest at Kent State University.Tommy Japan 79 via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Another one of Hoffman's eye-catching performance art protests involved poet Allen Ginsberg performing Tibetan chants while Hoffman jokingly attempted to lift the 3,705,793-square-foot home of the Department of Defense into the air.

6. Abbie Hoffman was one of the Chicago Seven.

After anti-war protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago turned into a police riot, Hoffman and six (originally seven) other activists were charged with conspiracy and traveling across state lines to incite a riot. Hoffman turned the courtroom into a circus, first claiming that presiding judge Julius Hoffman was his illegitimate father, and later donning a judge’s robe in the court and playing tug-of-war with a federal deputy marshal over a National Liberation Front flag.

7. Abbie Hoffman wrote a book that was meant to be stolen.

Jamie via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In 1971, Hoffman published Steal This Book, a manifesto and guide for fighting back against the injustices of a capitalist system. The first section features life hacks for getting food, clothing, and other items for free. The second offers advice on building and maintaining a protest movement, and the third section focuses on specific healthcare, food, and other resource hubs for those living in major cities. Several booksellers refused to carry the book because people were taking the title seriously, and when it became a success, Hoffman joked, "It's embarrassing when you try to overthrow the government and you wind up on the Best-Seller's list."

8. The FBI file on Abbie Hoffman was 13,262 pages long.

Like many other counterculture and protest figures of the time, the FBI monitored Hoffman extensively.—maybe too extensively, considering his personal file was 10 times longer than the entire The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

9. Abbie Hoffman had a cameo in Born on the Fourth of July.

Hoffman effectively played himself as "Strike Organizer" in Oliver Stone's epic journey through the 1960s. His cameo character speaks at a large antiwar rally attended by Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) which is eventually teargassed by state troopers.

10. Abbie Hoffman and second wife, Anita Kushner, had a son named america.

To be clear: Their child’s name was america, not America. The lack of capitalization was on purpose. Hoffman went into hiding from the federal government in order to avoid conviction on drug-related charges when america was a toddler, so they started calling the child Alan and arranged ways for him to visit his father without the FBI discovering Hoffman's location. America claimed that one of his babysitters was an FBI agent who went through their trash.