Our China Tour in 2006

Gene and Norma Maas

Thursday, April 27 Yangtze River

After the hectic days in Beijing and Shanghai, we really enjoyed this day-long leisurely cruise without any onshore excursions. The Yangtze River between Wuhan and Yichang City is a slow-moving, very wide river that runs through fairly level agricultural land. It is the longest river in China and the third longest in the world, 3,900 miles long. During the day, the shipís doctor, George Zhang, presented a talk about traditional Chinese medicine, including acupressure and acupuncture. Cissy, our river guide, gave a lecture on the Three Gorges Dam project. She could talk nonstop without ever hardly taking a breath. At 5:30, we were invited to the sundeck for the Captainís welcoming champagne party. In the evening, the ship staff entertained us with traditional Chinese folk songs and dances at the Sheena Follies in the ballroom.

Friday, April 28 Three Gorges Dam

At about 9 am we encountered the first dam on the Yangtze River, the Gezhouba Dam and ship lock located at Yichang City, about 23 miles downstream from the Three Gorges Dam. The Gezhouba Dam was completed in 1988 and was the first large scale dam on the Yangtze.  It is longer than the Three Gorges Dam (1.6 mi.) but only about 150 feet high. The maximum difference in water levels above and below the dam is 88 feet.  Three, one-stage ship locks provide for the passage of up to 10,000-ton passenger and cargo ships. It took about an hour to pass through this ship lock.  On our way towards the Three Gorges Dam, we were intrigued to see a two ship yards along the banks of the river where large ferries and barges were being built with essentially no equipment or other facilities evident.  We wondered how these ships would be launched from the river bank into the water.

We arrived a short time later at San Dou Ping. Here we disembarked and took a bus to visit the Three Gorges Dam, the largest dam in the world at 600 ft high and nearly 1Ĺ miles long. The official cost has been put at $22.5 billion (180 billion Yuan) but critics and others have suggested the real cost may be as high as $75 billion. Itís likely the true cost of the entire project is somewhere in between.   Inside the visitor center was a huge model of the entire project. 


An observation site above the dam provided a great panoramic view of the dam and locks.

This concrete dam will create a reservoir 360 miles long that will submerge 13 cities, 140 towns, 1352 villages, 657 factories and approx. 75,000 acres of cultivated land. One and a third million people have been or will be relocated. Construction started in 1994 and when completed in 2008, 26 hydro turbine generators were supposed to provide 15% of Chinaís electricity, but because of China's booming economy, that figure has been revised down to 3%. 

Twin 5-stage locks, each 60 feet high, will accommodate 10,000 ton ships.    So far, the water height behind the dam has risen about 200 feet requiring the operation of four of the five locks. Eventually, the water will rise another 100 feet to a maximum height of 574 ft above sea level. Not yet completed is a ship elevator that will be able to lift a 3,000 ton ship as much as 370 feet in 30 minutes, while it literally floats in a 60 x 400 ft. tub.


It took us about three hours to pass through the four locks. Each lock chamber is large enough (112 x 900 ft) to accommodate four ships the size of the Princess Sheena. As we passed through the locks, there were a total of seven ships of various types and sizes in our lock chamber. It was fascinating to watch how quickly they can fill those huge "tubs". Once we were inside and the gates were closed, the water level rose 60 feet in perhaps as little as 10 minutes.

Unfortunately, because we were delayed getting through the locks, it was after 6 pm before we entered the first of the Three Gorges, the Xiling Gorge -- a couple hours later than we would have liked. The Xiling Gorge is the longest of the gorges (41 mi) and it was getting dusk before we passed all the way through. The entire Three Gorges area, also called Sanxia, is a mountainous barrier of solid limestone that extends from Yichang to Baidi Cheng, a distance of about 150 miles.

Gene Maas
5 Jun 2006



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