A multitude of steamboats and mahailas lined the shore. The river was in flood and looked black and forbidding, and it was impossible to see across to the other side. The only light was supplied by a few electric lamps at intervals along the road. It still rained dismally and we made for a canteen close at hand.

The huge, high-prowed mahailas, the crazy wooden galleries skirting the river, the quaint, squat minaret appearing over the flat roofs, and the dim light of lamps reflected in the still water made a picture at twilight that it would be difficult to beat for mystery and romance. A man in black with a fire of brushwood in the bow of a mahaila added a touch of magic to the scene.

The tower of the mosque stood out against a lemon-coloured sky, and wandering wisps of purple smoke curled up from countless hearths. Some giant mahailas, nearly obliterated the crooked little galleries that overlook the creek, and a few boats glided silently down towards the open river. Lights began to appear and stars studded the darkening sky.

Led by the sloops Espiègle, Clio, and Odin, the Stunt Armada came to Ezra's Tomb at twilight. The river was high and the land in between the great bends was a maze of rushes and lagoons. Hospital hulks like Noah's arks, little steamers, and loaded mahailas jostled each other in their endeavours to get up against the strong stream.

There were Thornycroft motor-boats and Sennacharib goufas, mahailas and Thames steamboats, an oil-fuel gunboat and a stern paddler that could have come out of a woodcut of the first steamboat on the Clyde and all these in the same reach. I travelled in this last extraordinary vessel for a short time.

The sun began to show through the fog and blue sky appeared overhead. Soon the steaming vapours dispersed, showing a view of buildings among palm trees and a bridge of boats. Here again we were held up while countless mahailas passed through, but we succeeded in getting over at last and eventually found the house of the Wise Men, the headquarters of the irrigation officers.

Across the bend, some two or three miles away, the Turkish gunboat Marmaris was putting on every ounce of fuel she had, and a mass of mahailas and tugs were doing their best to escape the Nemesis that awaited them. Then the sloops opened fire, and a desultory cannonade was kept up as it grew darker and darker. At last it was too dark to get any sort of aim, and firing ceased.

The canals of Basra are multitudinous. They are artificially dug and are really more canals than creeks, although they are always called creeks. Ashar Creek is the most important of these waterways. It is generally packed with craft from big mahailas, the type of vessel shown in the sketch facing page 16, to the ubiquitous bellam. Old Basra lies up here.