Some idea of the force of this enormous volume of water may be given by mentioning the exploits of the steamer Pioneer, which on three consecutive occasions attacked the Yeh T’an when at its worst, and, though steaming a good fourteen knots, failed to ascend. She was obliged to lay out a long steel-wire hawser, and heave herself over by means of her windlass, the engines working at full speed at the same time. Hard and heavy was the heave, gaining foot by foot, with a tension on the hawser almost to breaking strain in a veritable battle against the dragon of the river. Yet so complete are the changes which are wrought by the great variation in the level of the river, that this formidable mid-level rapid completely disappears at high level.
After we had left this rapid—and right glad were we to get away—we came, after a couple of hours’ run, to the Niu K’eo, or Buffalo Mouth Reach, quiet enough during the low-water season, but a wild stretch during high river, where many a junk is caught by the violently gyrating swirls, rendered unmanageable, and dashed to atoms on some rocky promontory or boulder pile in as short a space of time as it takes to write it. It was here that the Woodlark, one of the magnificent gunboats which patrol the river to safeguard the interests of the Union Jack in this region, came to grief on her maiden trip to Chung-king. One of these strong swirls caught the ship’s stern, rendering her rudders useless for the moment, and causing her to sheer broadside into the foaming rapid. The engines were immediately reversed to full speed astern; but the swift current, combined with the momentum of the ship, carried her willy-nilly to the rock-bound shore, on which she crumpled her bows as if they were made of tin. Fortunately she was built in water-tight sections; her engineers removed the forward section, straightened out the crumpled plates, riveted them together, and bolted the section back into its place again so well, that on arrival at Chung-king not a trace of the accident was visible.
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Upon arrival at Kweifu one bids farewell to the Gorges. This town, formerly a considerable coaling center, overlooks most beautiful hillocks, with cottage gardens cultivated in every accessible corner, and a wide sweep of the river.
We landed with difficulty. “Chor, chor!” yelled the trackers, who marked time to their cry, swinging their arms to and fro at each short step; but they almost gave up the ghost. However, we did land, and so did our boy, who bought excellent provisions and meat, which, alas! too soon disappeared. The mutton and beef gradually grew less and daily blackened, wrapped up in opposite corners of the cabin, under the protection from the wet of a couple of sheets of the “Pink ’Un.”