Trekking Through China…The Yangtze River…Through the Locks

Our first glimpse of the locks at Three Gorges Dam

Ever since I was a child, ship locks have fascinated me. Since my birthday was in the summer (which meant not many kids being available for a birthday party), my Mom used to take me on birthday trips instead. One memorable trip included a visit to the locks at the Welland  Canal. I remember being so fascinated by watching the ships going through the locks that day that I didn’t want to leave.

Since then, we’ve visited locks throughout Ontario, especially all along the Rideau Canal, including right here in Ottawa. And in 2007, we took a special Christmas cruise through the Panama Canal, which was such a wonderful trip that I’d do it again in a heartbeat, and would highly recommend that everyone try to visit the Panama Canal at least once in their lifetime. I was delighted with our unexpected gift of front row seats (albeit sitting on the floor in the dining room) that morning our ship went through.

Two barges in one of the locks at the Three Gorges Dam. Each lock was wide enough to accommodate two boats at a time.

Both hubby and I were excited to be going through these locks here at the Three Gorges Dam. There are actually only two locks, and they are staircase locks, which means that each ship goes through 5 “stairs” or stages to get from the downstream (Shanghai) corridor of the Yangtze to the upstream (Chongqing) level (or vice versa). For many on the tour, this was one of the more highly anticipated parts of the trip. So it was quite a disappointment to hear the news that our boat would not be going through the locks until around midnight. Flurries of rumours swirled around the boat about what it could be that the government didn’t want us to see in the light of day (but we’re not a paranoid bunch, are we, lol).

Look at all the boats waiting to go through the locks! And these are just the ones heading for Chongqing…there would be another queue on the other side heading downstream to Shanghai.

But the truth may have been as simple as the reality that it’s a very busy high-traffic set of locks, and that the steady stream of heavy-laden barges and container ships heading in both directions probably had higher priority than our little river boat full of tourists.

Looking at the locks from the lookout at the Three Gorges Dam.

Whatever the reason, without any kind of ETA for the journey through the locks, many just went to bed. But the loud clanging of the lock doors and ear-splitting squealing of our boat’s buffers against the walls of the locks woke most of us up just in time to enjoy the ride through. It was difficult to see much that late at night, but it was still an adventure worth getting out of bed to watch.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking from here on…see you on the other side of the locks!!

(We’ll cruise through the gorgeous gorges in the next blog!)

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Going under the bridge en route to the first stage of the lock, at Three Gorges Dam

Entering one of the “stairs” of the lock…at this point, lots of noise! Clanging and squealing. It was almost impossible to sleep, but I was glad to have been awakened in time!!

A lovely self-portrait at midnight in the lock at the Three Gorges Dam, lol (I was a bit groggy, but it looks like this must have been the first stage)

Me touching the wall of the lock at the Three Gorges Dam…this would have been the 3rd or 4th “stair”…it was a little scary watching the boat get so close to the wall! And yes, I scrubbed my hands shortly after taking this picture, but it was still a thrill to touch that wall!

Moving into the 5th and final “stair” of the lock. So exciting!!

And this is what was waiting for us on the other side of all those “stairs”…now we’re sailing through the Gorges! No sunshine that early morning, but still breathtakingly beautiful!

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And here’s some technical info straight from Wikipedia, for anyone wanting some quick facts and figures on the locks.

“The installation of ship locks is intended to increase river shipping from ten million to 100 million tonnes annually, as a result transportation costs will be cut between 30 and 37%. Shipping will become safer, since the gorges are notoriously dangerous to navigate.[63] Ships with much deeper draft will be able to navigate 2,400 kilometres (1,500 mi) upstream from Shanghai all the way to Chongqing. It is expected that shipping to Chongqing will increase fivefold.[90][91]

There are two ship locks installed near the dam. Each of them is made up of five stages, with transit time at around four hours. Maximum vessel size is 10,000 tons.[92] The locks are 280 m long, 35 m wide, and 5 m deep (918 x 114 x 16.4 ft).[93][94] That is 30 m longer than those on the St Lawrence Seaway, but half as deep. Before the dam was constructed, the maximum freight capacity at the Three Gorges site was 18.0 million tonnes per year. From 2004 to 2007, a total of 198 million tonnes of freight passed through the locks. The freight capacity of the river increased six times and the cost of shipping was reduced by 25%. The total capacity of the ship locks is expected to reach 100 million tonnes per year.[63]

These locks are staircase locks, whereby inner lock gate pairs serve as both the upper gate and lower gate. The gates are the vulnerable hinged type, which, if damaged, could temporarily render the entire flight unusable. As there are separate sets of locks for upstream and downstream traffic, this system is more water efficient than bi-directional staircase locks.”

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Copyright © Sharon C. Matthies, Meanderings (blog), 2012. All rights reserved.

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About Sharon

I love to write. I love to write myself into being right here right now. Writing releases something in me that needs wings, writing opens doors and windows that I often don't even realize are possible, writing helps me breathe out the dusty old, and to breathe in the new and possible. My hope is that maybe writing here in this blog will bring new light into these dusty old hallways and help me to clear out the thinking processes and mindsets that just don't work for me anymore. I seek to breathe new light and life into the nooks and crannies of a soul that has been feeling somewhat lost and frayed because of the last few patches of road I've had to travel.
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2 Responses to Trekking Through China…The Yangtze River…Through the Locks

  1. angelika says:

    I’ve been to Panama Canal and the Locks, but saw them from land and not from a ship. I remember the museum there too. Also Hamburg, Germany has locks, …all on a small scale.

    I can understand your fascination; it really is one of the many genius feats of man.

    You have been on an incredible journey. Your head must still be buzzing from all the experiences.

    How’s the jet lag coming along?


    • Sharon says:

      Thanks for asking, Angelika. I can’t tell if the residue fatigue/foggy brain is from continuing effects of jet lag, the cold or the antibiotics…or all three combined. I’m much stronger, but still not much stamina. And yes, my head’s buzzing, but again, not sure what’s making that buzzing noise in there (I feel drugged, lol).


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