Yesterday we FINALLY acquired the boat with a dramatic unveiling from a port container set by itself near the water's edge. Watching the HIGHLY anticipated reactions of the guys gave me goose bumps and inspired some tears. It was such a load off! We were accompanied by a small crew from AGS, the boat's international shipping/receiving company that seemingly busted their butts with "Africa time", prayer days, unforeseen kinks in the rusty chain that consistently got in the way. On Friday, we enthusiastically spent an entire day near the port waiting for the call that the boat was ready. We showed up at the AGS office at the designated time of 3:30pm and were taken to the port after an hour of waiting... and then waited again for a guy that never received the memo that the container with the boat needed to be there right then. Defeated, we were turned back and told to show up the next morning.
We arose before the sun eager to get across the water and receive a boat that'd arrived nearly a month after it was supposed to. We cabbed it with several bags full of La Brioche Doree croissants leaving a trail of crumbs from la boulangerie to the AGS office. More enthusiastically than I expected to see our new "friends" receive us, we were almost immediately taken to the port with yet another stomach full of butterflies as we approached this magical container of what we only hoped was an in tact ocean rowing research vessel. The doors opened and the men looked on in awe and relief, the way a NASA engineer might receive a safely returned spaceship after its orbit around the Earth. Messages of luck and safe travels from shipping crews were written on the white plastic that hugged every curve and edge. A not-so-well-thought-out, makeshift ramp was created for the significant drop from the edge of the container to the ground.
A heaving and pulling of all the men on site finally got the beautiful beast to budge from her 3 month home out into the sunshine where- once plastic was removed- solar panels could begin to restore whatever leak half-way drained the batteries. The ramp, consisting of a series of small steps made from 2x4s, didn't smoothly receive the backend of the boat. It dropped with the final tug and the 3000lb boat's load broke the support deeming it pointless to ship back but still usable for its short time on the port. It took several people to move it to a working space where the rowers opened their gift like children and began assembling all of the gadgets necessary to create a working, researching, desalinating, acidification-testing, twitter-sending machine. It was so exciting, the non-rowing crew jumped in and helped where they could. As soon as the wind turbine was installed, a director of port security showed up to instigate a yelling match of epic proportions! Our small team of Wolof and French speakers attempted to convince the guy that all of the papers were scanned and approved, the President supposedly accepted its arrival, all of the necessary steps were taken to receive this fear-inducing research vessel- unlike anything anyone had ever seen- into the port. The head AGS rep told us to keep working and not to worry while intermittently exclaiming in French to the flexing ego of the "gate keeper". There were fears that yet another day would be spent fighting bureaucracy and unfounded fears of what this boat actually was and what it did. Who the hell rows across the ocean anyway? I jumped in the middle, with the Sirou children's magazine displayed to the page featuring the OAR Northwest story, explaining their reasoning and mission. I'd hoped the validity of the city-wide magazine might ease tensions and promote understanding. To no avail, the yelling and physical restraining continued. Just when the volume died down, Gendarmie vehicles pulled up with a van sized perfectly to haul us all away to prison. Fears began to mount and Chris was told to put his videocamera away or it'd be thrown into the water! A prestigious commander-looking man stoically approached the boat to inspect the oars and satisfy his natural curiosities. I greeted him and welcomed him to check out the article. With a smile and the final word, we were granted the peace to carry about our business.
As one stress eased, another mounted when a large coast guard-looking ship began approaching the very spot where our boat would be placed. Ironically, the port director who had moments earlier contested our very existence on "his" property, immediately jumped to our aid, directing the ship to "park around the corner". Momentum was on our side as the crane, attached to a large truck, got into place and straps were secured around the bottom of the vessel. A bit nervous about the shippers' questions regarding how to also secure the chain, the boat was lifted anyway. It was difficult to prevent the anxieties from getting in the way of my job. What if the boat dropped? I had to walk away from all of the what-ifs and have faith that this wasn't the crane operator's first day on the job. Nothing seemed to help as the boat continued to be jerked by the crane's mechanics. The boat rotated above the truck and was lowered on the other side, barely over the edge of the port. With a considerable jerk and several inch drop heightened by the, "WHOA!!" of the crowd, the boat finally and safely reached water. The water's edge was littered in curious on-lookers, both from the port, and the nearby ships. Everyone seemed to celebrate the accomplishment with handshakes and smiles. Jordan blew the conch shell and the boat was off to head toward it's 4 day moorage at the Hotel Terrou Bi.