Friday, 20 March 2015

Misadventure At Tseng-wen Reservoir

This is a delayed post on what I did two weeks ago. I made my second crossing of Tseng-wen reservoir but this time something went wrong, resulting in a memorable experience.

I left Tainan in the early afternoon and it was somewhat hazy, which was unfortunate, but wasn't going to stop me. On the drive up the east side of the reservoir toward the bay, I stopped and backtracked when I saw an eagle sat upon an electricity cable post...

Having just arrived at the bay, camera kit and other gear still strapped to the iron pony...

I was astonished to see just how much the waterline had fallen during the previous month since I had last been here (this was March 8th, and I had previously been here February 8th).

Later this summer when the rains finally come, all of this will be once again submerged leaving only the background trees above water.

The difference was about three or four meters; the black speck sitting at the foot of the trail to the right of the image below is my gear. On my previous visit the waterline had reached all the way up to that point.

I initially believed the water to be slightly choppier than last time as I embarked from the bay, but once I was eventually out onto the main body of the reservoir it wasn't quite so bad and I made the crossing to the floating barge in an hour just as I had last time. However, the barge had been moved further downstream from its' previous position in order to maintain its' proximity to the western shoreline - if it had stayed where it was, the fall in the waterline would have meant that the barge would be floating further out from the shore such that the bridge would have fallen short.

When I arrived and sought to disembark, something happened to cause the valve for the main air compartment to spring open and I lost about half of my air. I had been very careful to depress all three valves before I left and I was wary of getting a puncture as I disembarked, so it may have been that I stood on it by mistake or else had it pushed up against one of the tyres attached to the barge. Whatever the cause was, the result was a minor disaster and I couldn't help but laugh at myself...

Having left the pump back on the eastern shoreline, there was now no way my boat was going to get me back across for the return journey. I still had plenty of options, but I quickly decided that the two I preferred were (a) to see if I could find a local fisherman to give me a lift back across after I had taken my pictures, or (b) to find some way of bolstering the pressure differential (e.g. by adding polystyrene foam) to allow my boat enough float to get me back again. There was plenty of foam attached to the barge, and I guessed there might be some spare in the hold but there wasn't.

For perspective, the view back eastward across the reservoir from the western shore just above the floating barge. That tree-clad spit of land on the other side is about 1.2 kilometers away in a straight line, with another 1.3 kilometers to go from there to the bay where I began. However, the actual distances I traversed would likely have been somewhat greater than those since I was not rowing in straight lines; the total distance would have been closer to 3 kilometers than 2.5.

Further downstream to the south there is a very large ravine opening up the western shoreline of the reservoir at its' approximate center. In that ravine there are a number of vessels moored on a semi-permanent basis. My main objective for the trip had been to photograph this ravine and explore it if possible as well as the shoreline in between the ravine and my disembarking point. So I headed south on foot. I soon came to a smaller ravine which allows a presently dried-up stream to enter the reservoir from the mountains...

I climbed around it, since I was carrying my kit with me (later in the day, as darkness drew on, I would swim back across it twice in order to fetch my boat from the barge).

Looking back up the deserted western shoreline with haze in the distance. The only other living presence besides myself had been the birds and the herds of grazing wild boars...

After an hour or so, I finally made it to the ravine as the sun was going down...

The whole floating complex was apparently deserted - I called out but there was no response.

Google stitched those last three images together into the following panorama...

Looking up into the ravine and the mooring cable running almost parallel to the mountainside...

Notice the weathering marks from previous waterlines - the drop from there to the water was perhaps as much as five or six meters.

Finding nobody there to ask for help, I headed back across the shoreline to find bits of debris I had noticed on my way. The plan was to use a three meter long wooden board I had noticed as the basis for a raft...

I also found rope and a few other bits and pieces (which in the end I didn't use). I dragged the wooden board from up on the bushy highground all the way down to the shoreline, and then went back for my kit and brought that to the shoreline too before heading off back to the barge to retrieve the boat (which was when I had to swim across that narrow gap and back again). When I finally got everything together it was after 6.30pm and it was almost dark. I tied my boat to the wooden board by threading the rope through the oar-loops and fastening it inside the middle of the boat. I loaded all my kit into the boat atop the wooden board and tested it to see if it had enough displacement to bear my weight also without taking in water. It didn't. I had no other choice but to throw my shoes and T-shirt into the boat too and push it out in front of me for the long swim back in the dark.

And a long, cold swim it was. I left the western shoreline at 6.45pm and didn't arrive back at the bay until 8.30pm. It was a cloudy, still night but if I could have taken pictures of myself from afar - swimming back pushing this raft out in front of me - they would have been brilliant. That is the enduring image I have in my mind of the swim. That, and my occasional northward gaze to watch fireworks and other lights as well as the agonizingly slow pace at which the eastern cliffs loomed into view. I was never so glad to finally get back onto dry land and into warm, dry clothes.


  1. Whoa! I certainly hadn't imagined your having to swim the better part of two hours, pushing the raft ahead. In the dark & cold. On the bright side, you got some particularly intriguing pictures. That Google panorama - a neat trick - underscores the lonesomeness of the place you'd hoped to find help. I can only imagine how you felt on seeing it deserted.

    But grazing wild boars!? Herds! Off in the considerable distance, I would hope.

  2. Yes. I was there again this morning, will post later this week.


Comment moderation is now in place, as of April 2012. Rules:

1) Be aware that your right to say what you want is circumscribed by my right of ownership here.

2) Make your comments relevant to the post to which they are attached.

3) Be careful what you presume: always be prepared to evince your point with logic and/or facts.

4) Do not transgress Blogger's rules regarding content, i.e. do not express hatred for other people on account of their ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation or nationality.

5) Remember that only the best are prepared to concede, and only the worst are prepared to smear.