Posts Tagged ‘OceansWatch’

High Quality Coconut Oil Form Low Tech Production

September 28, 2016

One of OceansWatch’s sustainability projects consists in teaching women a simple, almost fool proof method for producing high grade virgin coconut oil, which is then brought back to New Zealand on the organizations sailboats once a year. To produce the oil to the picky standards of a first world government in a very simple and utterly rural setting took a couple years of work to streamline. 

We had the chance to assist at one of the workshops given to a group of women in Pala Village. The gist of the program is precisely that: to give women, who strangely enough are most always underserved when it comes to economic power, a chance to make a little bit of cash on their own. Here in the Solomon Islands land ownership for example is a purely masculine affair. At the government table of the timber right hearing we attended a couple weeks back there was one women sitting amongst a good dozen of men, and all she was allowed to do was say a short prayer at the end. 


It all starts with a pile of coconuts, I our case a good one hundred seventy strong, peeled of their outer fibrous skin and now as the first business of the day cleaned down to bare wood with all kinds of scrapers, from kitchen knives to shards of broken beer bottles. It’s a community affair, so the going is loud and happy, the fond laughter that’s heard in any village here throughout the day accompanies the task to sweeten its boring routine. 

Next comes the splitting station, where sharp bush knives are wielded with precision. The nut sits innocently in a bare hand. It has to be smacked laterally just the right way to make it spring open. Its refreshing water squirts out into a basin to be used for pig feed later on. The halves of the nuts are piled up in a container upside down, to prevent the ever present flies from setting their filthy feet onto the freshly exposed bright white meat. 

Once the first container is full it wanders to the third and probably the most laborious station. Here the coconut halves are held with both hands and scrubbed against a metal grater attached to a small stool. The meat is ground up into a pile of thin strips and the now empty shells discarded. 

About two thirds full the plastic tub must be before it continues its journey to the next station where a mixture of ambient temperature and boiling water is added to the gratings. Coconut oil changes its aggregate state from gel to liquid at around 28˚ Celsius. The idea therefore is to keep the temperature of the mix slightly above that but not too much, as the a much higher temperature would start to quickly degrade the quality of the final product. The slushy mixture is then worked with a pestle for a good fifteen minutes to extract as much oil as possible from the ground up fibers. 

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From there a strainer picks up the fibers out of the white liquid, which then are put into a press to squeeze out every bit of liquid and leave behind dry fiber, which also will be transformed into pig meat. This is usually the final stage of the first day of work. The liquid is now an emulsion of water and oil and will need to sit overnight to let gravity do its work of separating the two materials. The following morning the oil will be decanted and bottled according to its degree of purity. The containers then are stood out into the sunlight for a couple days to purify the oil and extract more and more of the water, which at that stage still causes some murkiness. 

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If you are interested in this process of providing underserved women with a means to create economic sustainability, visit OceansWatch’s website for more information and the possibility to contribute to this well intended and passionately executed program with your generous donation. 


Five Degrees of Separation

September 4, 2016

The winds promised to be gentle on the morning of August 24 and we hoisted Aluna’s big number one mains sail before weighing anchor in tranquil Suranda Bay on the Southeast coast of Espiritu Santo at about 15.5˚ southern latitude. We had checked out of Vanuatu the day before, which once again turned out to be a horrendously costly affair. It could have been even worse had we not caught the ever cash-hungry government officials of the Ports and Harbor Office trying to charge us double for our first month in the country. That little incident, which took a good half hour of persistent explaining to get corrected, was nothing but the culmination of a considerable affront consisting in having to pay over NZ$500 in government fees for our stay of close to three months in Vanuatu. While the tiny island nations of the South Pacific certainly have every right to milk the cows of tourism, when considering the fact that a great portion of public moneys in Vanuatu suffer from systemic misuse and abuse, which we have now supported with our sizeable ‘development donation’, it does seem justified to recommend against visiting this land of friendly people for budget conscious people with socio-economic sensibilities.

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Leaving Suranda Bay astern

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Crawling up Espiritu Santo’s east coast

The benevolent promise of the weather gods on the other hand was kept for the best part of the roughly 300 miles passage north to the easternmost Solomon Islands. Just barely enough wind to keep Aluna moving had us slowly creep up along Epiritu Santo’s east coast throughout the day, and the sun prepared to set over the solid mountain ranges on the far side of the Great Bay just as we left Cape Quiros astern. Darkness fell and we continued to putter along until shortly before midnight the waxing moon rose on our starboard beam to drape a shy silver hue across the seascape. The morning dawn revealed the first one of the Bank Islands a good distance to the East, its mountains being high enough to steal most of the already fickle wind. For a good couple of hours the going was very slow until finally the winds started to gain a bit of strength again. The same ritual was repeated with the two other main islands of the banks group during the day, while by late afternoon on the opposite side the much lower and smaller Torres Islands crawled aft on the horizon under a soon setting sun. Occasional rain squalls kept us on our toes once again in darkness. The moon made its appearance a bit skinnier and almost one hour later at half an hour past midnight.

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Cape Cumberland far in the background

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Convective energy

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The last of the Banks Island

With that we had left Vanuatu behind us and the next morning our first sighting of a reluctant member of the Solomon Islands emerged from the dark purple of dusk straight ahead. I had drawn our course towards Vanikoro Island as prudence dictates to the careful mariner to always stay a good bit to windward of an imaginary rhumb line connecting the departure point to that of the destination. The wide island came closer and closer very slowly, straining the sailor’s patience, but as once again a full day had passed through our lightheaded consciousness, its southern shore was close enough to distinguish tiny human settlements in a verdant drape over the island’s rounded hills. Also clearly visible was a ochre brown scar in that lush green along the coastline that could only have come from a clearly careless logging operation, an issue spread out in our minds as part of our commitment with OceansWatch, which is on a mission to assist the local population of the Temotu Province to resist such blatant abuse of their lands.

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Is there something at the end of the line?

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You better believe it!

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Now comes the nasty part…

The ocean was a good bit more forgiving and gifted a good size tuna at the end of our line. We fried a junk of it for diner and cooked the rest and bottled it for later use. Fresh food from the ocean, it does not get any better than this!

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Vanikoro far

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Vanikoro close

Once again, and we should have known better this time, Aluna got caught in the lee of the island. Amazingly from one moment to the next the comfortable wind of around 15 knots vanished and only very reluctantly came back during the following hour with little huffs and puffs. By that time I had adjusted Aluna’s course to the Northwest, now heading definitely towards our destination around and up from the Southwest corner of Nendo, the main island of the Santa Cruz Islands. Before that during yet another night with even less of moonshine we would pass by Utupua, which already peaked above the horizon ahead as a handful of separate and dark purple bumps as our earth’s life bearing star was again getting ready to set.

surandatolata - 10The lazy patience of the weather gods did run out however early next morning. It had just crossed my mind while waking from my passage slumber mode with the first light that this might be our first multi-day passage for a good while that had been accomplished with the big main sail up all the way. Right then I noticed a dark line of clouds growing overhead, approaching wicked fast from above the now visible outlines of our destination island of Nende. Within ten minutes the winds picked up considerably to the point of the two of us scrambling out of the cockpit to brail and strike the big main sail and on a heaving boat surrounded by now foaming crests we hoisted our very trustworthy main sail number two. Another ten minutes later rain was lashing the cockpit cover over our bent down heads, and with eerie fascination we peeked out through the little portholes to see how the sea around us had become angry. Under a leaden dark grey sky white fuming crests danced across almost black waters. Curtains of rain temporarily hid the nearing land behind them and again and again poured their drenching load over Aluna’s decks. Our diligently acquired easting was all of a sudden paying off big time. The whipping winds had gone clearly to the north of east and we were barely able to keep their fury aft of our beams. It is always astonishing how fast the sea builds when whipped up by ferocious winds. Soon enough Aluna was accelerating while surfing the newly churned up waves, sporting fancy peaks of thirteen and fourteen knots on the GPS. The good side of all this was that the southwest point of Nendo Island was approaching at breakneck speed.

Once around it and heading north up the coast towards the western entrance to Graciosa Bay we relaxed a bit in the calm of the lee. During that peaceful half an hour the skies broke open and an enormous mass of dark cloud passed slowly on to the west. It was a squall of monstrous proportions that left behind a good bit more of furious winds, which we had to brave once more. They came straight at us once past a stretch of reef, where the coast bends eastwards again. Gentlemen don’t go to windward, it is said, so we stripped away our tuxedos and with stern faces began a taking exercise into the foaming crests, inching our way closer and closer to the entrance a mile and a half away, where a labyrinth of treacherous reefs was awaiting us.

As we approached it our little outboard motor had to be called in for help. It managed to barely push Aluna against the gale force winds. Only by zigzagging and motor tacking were we able to advance in the right direction. One of my eyes glimpsed down at the little screen of our navigation iPad just behind the motor controls, where a graphic depiction of the coral maze helped making correct decisions as to where to lead the vessels course. Just under a mile of reefs took us close to an hour to negotiate but finally and with considerable relief we found the exit through a narrow channel between boiling green and turquoise waters, and we had entered Graciosa Bay.

We still had to cross this two-mile-wide bay before finding protected waters at its eastern banks. Exhausted we dropped anchor in a little bay with a very picturesque shoreline. Unfortunately the anchor dragged while angry bullets of wind found their way through the bracing row of coconut palms, and it had to be pulled up again and reset closer to shore. Gingerly checking position I found that this time it had found solid hold somewhere ten meters down in the translucent waters. Being Saturday afternoon there was not much more to do than strike the sails and hoist our shade cover to protect us from the brazing sun, while our southern latitude had melted away to 10.5˚.

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surandatolata - 14Officialdom was on hold over the weekend and check-in would not be possible before Monday morning, so we were confined to our vessel flying the yellow quarantine flag, and forced to take a good and long rest, which neither of us minded at all.