Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Cashew--Gesundheit! Also, South Africa!

A cashew fruit and nut

Or in Swahili you say, 'maisha marefu' ('long life') when someone sneezes. Our last stop in Tanzania was Mtwara. We busied ourselves with our final fueling, provisioning, and other preparations to leave for South Africa (including the usual multi-step process of checking out of the country). While in line for the ATM, Matt met Maria, the co-owner of a cashew factory. She generously invited us to tour the factory.

Cashews from the farms, drying in the sun

We love both cashews and factory tours, so we jumped at the chance. We now have a much greater appreciation for cashews, which we already loved because they're delicious.

The ebullient Maria met us at Mama Cashew, which she had just opened a few weeks prior with George, her partner and husband. Maria is originally from Holland and George is from Tanzania. Together they have opened a factory that is projected to process 130,000 kilograms of cashews this year. In addition to turning out a great product, it provides much-needed employment to hundreds of Tanzanians in the area, mostly women. Many of the women are essentially* single-mothers that previously had no consistent way to support their children.

*Some were married and divorced (or not divorced, but not supported) by their husbands, who commonly take multiple wives.

One of the cashew processing stations

The amount of work that goes into getting a cashew from the tree to your mixed cocktail nut tin is mind-boggling. I had read that cashews were expensive because the delicate nut had to be extracted by hand. But seeing all the steps that go into the process and the speed of the nimble fingers that extract the nut was a revelation. 

Cashew cutting and shelling

I won't describe the whole process (though Maria spent a lot of time showing and detailing to us all the stations and steps) but there is a lot more involved than just cracking a nut. First of all, cashew shells contain urushiol, which is the same stuff that makes poison ivy so toxic. The workers coat their hands with oil for protection but have to remember not to touch other parts of their body. The shells are heated to make them easier to open. One set of workers cuts the shell (there are also machines that can do this part, but the machines are more prone to breaking the nut) and removes the cashew from the shell. The workers' speed and dexterity are truly impressive.

One of the boilers that powers the steam for the ovens


Down the line, another set of workers peels the skin from the cashews. This is also intricate work that doesn't even look easy. In between the various processes, the cashews are carried, dried, steamed, and heated. The ovens and steamers are powered by boilers that use the discarded shells. In the end, the cashews are sorted, packaged and exported.

Steamers to soften the cashew shells

Tanzania is the second largest supplier of cashews in Africa and 60% of the world's cashews come from Africa. Unfortunately, there aren't enough processing facilities like Mama Cashew in Tanzania, so a lot of cashews (and profits) go from the farms in Tanzania to processors in India and Vietnam. Even beyond the Fair Trade designation of Mama Cashew, Maria and George seem to be focused on good working conditions and improving the lives and livelihood of the workers. Her enthusiasm was contagious and we left the tour really rooting for its success. I will certainly never take cashews for granted again.


I hope the home-schooling thing is working because cashew processing is not in this kid's future. The factory would go out of business.

Once we wrapped up all the chores and preparations in Mtwara (Perry was actually anchored in nearby Mikindani), we left for Richards Bay, South Africa on a favorable weather forecast. A few kilometers outside of Tanzania waters, a big Tanzanian Navy RIB with a deck-mounted machine gun pulled up and started yelling for us to stop the boat so they could pull alongside. As we struggled to bring in the sails and slow the boat, the Navy boat bounced against us and threw their lines around our cleats. They didn't seem to understand that sailboats under sail can't just stop on a dime. The cranky yelling continued until they had gotten the documents they wanted (which took a few tries because of the windy and wavy conditions and a little vagueness--we want to see 'all your boat papers').

As it turned out, they just wanted to ask a few questions (like 'are we carrying contraband') and see our exit documents, but their aggressive tactics left a bad taste (and a couple of small gouges on the side of the boat).


An underway (in underwear) repair of our mainsail batten.

Our trip to Richards Bay was relatively fast and eventful. This seven-day passage was not the slow, flat downwind spinnaker-fueled run to Puerto Rico. We reached record speeds going downwind with the combination of current and wind (20+ knots surfing down a wave), despite having our sails reefed to the size of a handkerchief. Heavy winds make for challenging gybes, and during one of them, our mainsail top batten broke.  Matt replaced it, but the new one was a hollow batten instead of a solid one (which we were assured was just as strong). It too broke a couple of days later as the winds hit 40 knots and we were taking the sail down.

Luckily, we did not have to stop in Mozambique to wait out the weather as is common for this passage. We did have to motor a bit through some lulls to get into Richards Bay ahead of the next front, as well as to dodge some intense lightning storms as we closed on the coast of South Africa. There were also many more sail changes than usual. But we had favorable currents (4+ knots at one point) almost the entire way. The casualty list: mainsail batten (x2), engine room bilge pump, battery charger (we have two), laptop (we have a backup), leaky galley faucet. Also, the cutlass bearing on one of our engines started whining at us, letting us know that we should replace it soon.

We were very happy to see Richards Bay when we pulled up to the mouth of the harbor around 7 p.m. We had to wait a couple hours for shipping traffic before we were allowed to head in, so we had some dinner in the relatively calm waters outside the harbor and waited. With radio support from our cruising friends already in Richards Bay and tie-up help from Austin on Enchantress and Jenny and Natasha (the OSASA reps that have been helping to smooth the way for cruisers), we safely tucked onto the concrete quarantine dock around 11 p.m. After PCR tests and a day and a half of waiting for our clearance from the various officials, we were free to move about the country.

Richards Bay is a refreshing change for us after being away from civilization for so long. The grocery stores have just about everything (especially meat) at a cheap (for us) price and the people are friendly. We are docked at the Zululand Yacht Club, which is a lovely and welcoming place. We don't normally stay at marinas, but the price is very reasonable and the anchorage options are limited. Many of our cruising friends are here and the club has a braai several times a week.

We are ticking away our boat maintenance and repair list. The laptop is fixed and better than before, we have a new batten, the charger has been repaired (Matt replaced a couple of fuses that we didn't know existed), the galley faucet is fixed, and the bilge pump has been replaced. Having water at the dock also means that Perry has gotten the first proper wash down in almost a year.  Meanwhile we are also watching the forecasts closely to find a good weather window to make our way to Cape Town, where we hope to spend the holidays.


  1. Always enjoy reading about your experiences and adventures. I searched Google Maps for Zululand YC and looks very protected marina for you all. Interesting and amazing sailing trip from Tanzania. After our trip from Muskegon to North Point with 30 knots North winds and 12 foot seas, you all have developed impressive sailing ability and tenacity. Best wishes for the Holidays in Cape Town.
    Ken Campbell

    1. Thanks, Ken--hope you are well and got some sailing in this summer. That trip was still stands out as one of our more challenging sails and you were happily steering away, seemingly unaffected by the conditions, while we were feeling pretty sick.


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