We started the journey with a long U turn cutting a path through the water hyacinth. It was a slow turn, we had to make sure that the sea weed didn’t get stuck in the propellers. We were lucky. The boat made it through unscathed. The boat soon found a patch of clear water and thundered homeward with its two 250 horse power engines. I sat out on the deck leaving the cabin for my more nervous cousins. An accomplished sailor and swimmer, there is nothing in the brackish water to fear. The sun set behind us. Its light blocked in part by the harmattan haze. We were sun-kissed in scarlet, fuchsia and amber against a light orange sky; the prettiest colours the Lagos sunset has to offer.
Our boat raced on but the journey wasn’t smooth. There were bits of the water that were choppy for reasons vastly out of our control, and there were bits of it that were as flat as a mirror. Regardless of the water’s state, we shot our best shot never once lifting our hands from the throttle. There were times that the boat seemed to clear the water given lift off by the waves left by the passing of another boat. As uncomfortable as the bouncing was we didn’t stop, and we didn’t slow. If we took too long we would lose the light, left to make the journey through the lagoon with no light and an endless fog.
There were birds behind us making a different trip in a similar direction. For a time, the distance between us and them grew with every propeller rotation and then it stopped growing. While we navigated through shallow waters and the deep, banking left and turning right, they flew straight until we were overtaken. It is likely that they didn’t even notice us, an old trawler on older sea. I knew that our races were different, but still I looked to the captain and thought, “Can you not go faster?” I looked to the engines and thought, “Can you give more?” They couldn’t. The engines gave the best of their 500 horse power, to exceed that would be treacherous. We would gain on the birds for a time but after a while one of them would tell us with a blinking alert on the dashboard the last words any man wants to hear. “I cannot continue.” We stuck to our pace knowing that sooner or later we would make land fall where we planned. This was the most important part of the journey.
It was good that we had our hired hands: the captain and his assistant. I may be skilled with a jib, a main sail, and figuring out the path and direction of the wind but I know nothing about motor boats. It looks easy enough. Push the throttle till the boat moves, but these things are always more complicated than they seem. I revelled in the fact that if asked to I could drive the boat and delighted in the fact that it was unnecessary. The captain and his comrade would do twice the job I could.
We stopped somewhere along the way. A bit of trash had got stuck in the propellers. The sound of the engine changed a fraction. It’s so subtle that you would miss it if you were not looking. The boat jolted still and we put it in reverse. To continue with the obstruction could spell certain death for the boat. When we dislodged the bit of filth we continued like nothing had happened.
Along the way came a challenge of a different sort: Tin Can Island and the Apapa Port, the point where the lagoon meets the open sea. The waves are bigger and the ride is significantly rougher, but we trudge on without batting an eyelid. It was simply another obstruction ultimately unworthy of note. With our engines, and our captains, and the edge of our bow (the front end of the boat) the waters were parted and the journey continued.
We made it back to the dock in good time and in one piece, tired but complete. The boat undamaged and its passengers intact. The story of the boat as long and pointless as it may seem has several similarities to life.
There are patches of water hyacinth, you must take care to cross them. There are inexplicable bits of calm and turmoil, you must know that they’ll come regardless of what you do and fire your way through them. You’ll see other people moving faster than you, or better than you, but their journey and yours are not one and the same. Along the way you will pick up bits of filth. They’ll stick with you like garbage and bring you down. When that happens the only thing to do is reverse so you can go forward. It’ll seem like a regression at the time but soon enough you’ll move forward unrestricted. There’ll be waters deeper than you think you should be able to handle but is your bow not sturdy and is your engine not swift? Stay the course and you’ll make it home.
This is how I’ll be treating the new year. 2016 was immeasurably difficult and I don’t know what challenges 2017 will bring. I live knowing that the course is onward and upward, that my bow is sturdy and my engine swift.
Happy New Year,