For more than 10 years Tres Hombres is carrying cocoa beans from the Dominican Republic back to Amsterdam.
On Thursday, the 24th of February the Tres crew went on a field trip to the backland of the island to meet the farmers of the cooperative Conacado. The inner backland is the agricultural centre of the country. On the 3 hours bus trip to San Francisco, we saw large plantations of rice and banana passing along the street. The cooperative is a local enterprise that hosts 10.000 cocoa farmers. The annual production is approximately 80.000 tons of cocoa. The small farms are up to a size of 20ha to avoid a monoculture in the area.
Cosme Guerrero, the operational manager, explained the mission of Conacado. Farmers get support from specialists to plant organic cocoa to the highest sustainability standards to increase the crop. They are also shareholders and decision-makers in the annual assembly. This mission results in a higher resilience and independence of the farmer. It also improves the price stability of cocoa and increases the social-political impact of these communities.
Cosme gave us a tour around the modern factory. They produce cocoa powder, oil and butter. In the labs, samples are tested to receive the quality requirement of the licenses. In the factory, the shell of the cocoa bean is separated to be used as a natural fertilizer. In another step, the beans got roasted and ground before becoming the final products. Everything is automated and controlled by computer programs. Solar power is covering 20% of the energy consumption of processing cocoa from 4,2-4,6 Mwh. At the end of our tour, we have got a delicious hot chocolate from their own production. In exchange, we brought some of the chocolate that gets produced in Amsterdam with their beans.
After a local meal with local food, we drove to the village Comedero to visit one of the plantations of organic cocoa. First, the cocoa beans are fermented for 6 days, the process of fermentation increases the flavour of the cocoa. Many customers, like the Europeans, prefer a stronger cacao flavour. On the site, there are greenhouses to dry the cocoa beans. For eight days the beans have to be dried and turned every 45 min with a wooden rake.
On the plantation, the cocoa trees there are up to 80 years old and grow happily in a humid warm climate. The harvest time is between February and May when the fruits are turning yellow and orange. All fruits are harvested by hand. Manuel, one of the farmers who was showing us the plantation emphasized there is a change due to the global warming effect in the last years. Longer dry periods and longer wet periods put the plants under stress with the result of a lower crop and shorter lifespan.
In the late afternoon, we went back by bus passing picturesque villages and landscapes and arrived at our ship at 8 pm. It was a very inspiring trip for all of us.
We gained a deeper understanding and relationship of the farming and processing of cocoa and we were impressed by the strong social mission of the cooperation Conacado. The next day we received 10 tons of cocoa beans in bags of 70kg for the Chocolate Makers in Amsterdam. Their fermented aroma will guide us on our way back to Amsterdam.
Three First mates
Four second mates
Six different bunks
60 knots in the gusts
Ten tons of cacao
40.000 bottles of wine (roughly)
20.000 nautical miles (very roughly)
Just some numbers of these last two years. Some of those numbers don’t mean much written down like that, not even to me. But one is most striking: 20 months. I have now worked on the Tres Hombres for effectively 20 months. During the refits a few weekends at home and this last summer two months off to get my Basic Safety training and vaccination and some much-needed rest after the Atlantic Round, but still, twenty months. I signed on as a fresh-faced trainee who knew nothing of sailing, and now I am signing off as Bosun. I went from being uncomfortable with the rolling and a little seasick to the grizzled veteran who has seen it all and is not impressed. That is not to say that I did not love to be on the ship out at sea till the end, I did. It remains a great feeling to be out at sea with no land in sight and the ship rolling under your feet.
So I lived on a wooden ship with all sorts of people from all over the world, with limited space, with daunting working conditions like storms and hours and hours of rain. It really was a great time. Must have been, otherwise, I would not have stayed so long, right? But joking aside, it has been a great time, and all the people I sailed with helped make it great.
The last thing here on La Palma that I do before signing off is unload a barrel of La Palma wine that we loaded last year and has been ageing at sea in Tres Hombres’ cargo hold for that whole time. It has crossed the ocean tucked underneath the cacao and the rum, and then Skagerrak tucked under bottles of wine. Right now, I am the only one still on board who was present last year when we loaded it, making this barrel from the Tendal winery also my most long term shipmate. The wine will now be auctioned off to benefit the people displaced by the Cumbre Vieja’s lava stream.
But for now, my Tres Hombres adventure is over. Now I’ll go to Denmark to help refit another sailing cargo ship, the Hawila, but Captain Francois, Mates Arthur and Guven, my replacement bosun Camille, cook Ed, deckhands Ali and Thore and all the trainees will bring her safely to the Caribbean and back to Europe.
I will miss them tremendously and wish them all fair winds and hope to see them well and good in Amsterdam.