Arrival in Freetown on British Airways is before dawn, so we reached the jetty for the crossing by speedboat to the city via a remarkable un-surfaced road, bumping through a sleepy village, in the dark. Being quick to buy your ticket ensures a relatively rapid departure, but you do have to wait for 20 passengers to assemble before the boat leaves and your luggage may, or may not be on the same boat. Half ours was. All aboard and life-jackets on (albeit rather flimsy orange jackets with ineffectual ties) we set off.
There was just distinction between the black land and the dark grey sky and dark grey sea, with only the first hint of dawn. As the boat carved a white wake across the waters the sky slowly lightened and the sea began to show its ripples. At first, the only lights were the receding jetty behind us, the odd twinkle from a small fishing canoe and ahead the lights of Freetown sprinkled up the dark hills. In front of these, the brightest lights were from boats moored off the docks.
Little by little the scene was defined and the palette of grays multiplied. A vague promise of orange on the horizon was extinguished by a bank of cloud, but above this the sky grew brighter and a tinge of blue was imaginable.
Arriving in a capital city by water is pretty unusual these days, and as we approached Freetown I reflected that I was indeed following in the wake of my great-grandfather, who arrived here on a boat from Brazil with his wife, sister-in-law and three children over 120 years before me.
The shoreline loomed and we could see the details of closest buildings with enviable views across the water, albeit still in shades of gray and trees silhouetted against the skyline. Rounding a promontory we drew up against a pier. As we disembarked and waited for our bags we looked around: suddenly we could see colour – the day had begun.