What is the etiquette for a potluck dinner? Should you bring a pot roast? Would fortune cookies bring luck? How about something more exotic? For example, a harpooned Canadian swordfish? Why not?
Under glorious sunny skies, led by club Commodore Peter Rourke and his wife, along with Cruising Commanders Eva Robinson and her partner Trevor McAlpine, 31 boats set out from the Port Credit Yacht Club for an enjoyable, but short cruise east to the islands of Toronto Harbour on a recent Friday afternoon.
You have to get there early. There are no reserved spots on the wall and space is limited, but the location is simply spectacular. The Toronto Islands – Algonquin, Snake, Centre, Ward’s, Toronto and Hanlan’s Point – all create Toronto Harbour that is almost entirely parkland now, easily accessed by ferry boat from Toronto Harbour and every ticket is a round-trip ticket; no one stays on the island overnight.
That is unless you bring your own accommodations. In this case, the gang from the Port Credit Yacht Club all arrived in their own boats, so they're welcome to stay on the island as long as they sleep onboard. The Toronto Islands are alive with birds and other wildlife, guarded by mature shade trees and serenaded by the gentle lapping of Lake Ontario. Yet, look behind you and the world's tallest freestanding structure, the CN Tower is right there in the midst of Toronto's skyline.
These are lake country islands in the city. And, it brings up an interesting opportunity; you can easily get from your boat to the city to go shopping. Toronto is very fortunate. The downtown core enjoys a large population living in the elegant high-rise condominiums that now ring the shores of Lake Ontario. This upscale urban population leads to a vibrant downtown shopping scene and the historic St. Lawrence Market is more alive and bustling than ever.
For any group of yachtsmen and cruising boaters, a natural meal choice would be the catch of the day. The Galley Guys absolutely love fish and for the Port Credit Yacht Club cruise potluck, we made a call to our friends at Allseas Fisheries Corporation. From their warehouse and handling facility in Toronto's west end to Mike's Fishmarket kiosk in the St. Lawrence Market, it’s a quick truck ride away.
Guided by the fishmongers at Mike’s, we chose the “harpooned Canadian swordfish”.
According to Canada’s Sea Food Guide, you need to be careful when buying swordfish. Longlined swordfish lie squarely in the “Avoid ” category because of how they are caught, but harpooned swordfish are a “Best Choice.”
Swordfish are summer visitors off Nova Scotia’s coast, following the warming Atlantic waters up from Florida by late June. Along with a streamlined silvery-blue physique, these magnificent fish have a sharp, sword-like bill that allows them to cut through the water at speeds over 100 kilometers per hour. By night, they feed by diving into the chilly depths after smaller fish, especially squid, then they spend their days basking, or “finning,” near the surface in the warmth of the gulf stream.
Nova Scotia’s harpoon swordfish fishery is a unique hunt-like fishery with a rich cultural tradition. Mature swordfish are targeted by small boats on calm, clear afternoons. Fishermen have to sight the fish at the surface and when one is spotted, the harpooner attempts to spear it with a 4 to 5 meter long harpoon attached to a line.
This method of catching a swordfish is considered to be sustainable. But expect to pay an appropriate price for fish caught this way and handled with such care. According to recent DFO records, less than 200 harpoon-only fishing licences were found to be active.
Arriving back at Toronto Island where the boats from PCYC are moored along the wall, we met up with Eva Robinson, one of the club’s Cruise Commanders to talk about organizing a cruise and keeping the members interested and involved.
Port Credit Yacht Club is by no means unique, but some may think that a yacht club is for sailboats only. PCYC is almost 50-50 power and sail. Everyone is welcome on this cruise. The nice thing about belonging to a club like PCYC is that it's large enough to offer a wide selection of facilities and activities, yet small enough to be personal and friendly. In addition to the cruising group, the club has a learn-to-sail program, junior sailing, an active fleet of club racers and members willing to share a wide range of abilities and knowledge.
Through the season, the club organizes cruises and activities from January through October. In the winter, they do “land cruises” to tourist destinations like theatrical productions or casino nights. When the summer weather returns, they cruise to a different location every month, mainly working through reciprocal arrangements with clubs in other places. There's an ice-breaker cruise, a summer long-distance cruise and what they call “home cruises” where they actually stay at the club, but hold a potluck dinner and invite everybody to join in. This is a great way to welcome everyone aboard and to get to know your fellow club members better.
Luck seems to have a lot to do with it: potluck actually…breaking bread together, with everyone contributing. As we mentioned, the Galley Guys contribution to the Toronto Island cruise involved a visit to the St. Lawrence Market to buy the harpooned Canadian swordfish, but we also visited to the Farmer's Market to pick up interesting and delicious purple potatoes, colourful peppers to grill and some of the freshest and best asparagus we had ever had (for a mere dollar a pound). Who needs bread?
Toronto Island allows visitors to use carefully located open fire pits and picnic tables, but you have to bring your own barbecue. Detaching one of the Magna barbecues from a boat, we set about preparing our meal. Great friend of the Galley Guys, Eddie Sokoloff from Churchill Cellars, again joined the group. Eddie knows his wines! He piqued everybody's appetite by starting with a glass of rosé – a 2009 Gran Feudo Garnacha Rose from Spain that helps the conversation along!
In a large group, that didn’t last long so he opened a wonderful Willm Riesling from Alsace that has a delightful fruit nose. As we continued preparing the meal, he went on to a 2009 Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay from California. We also opened some Cellier Carte Noire from the Rhone region in France. Everyone who tried that one, loved it!
We mixed up a seasoned oil to brush onto both the vegetables (first) and the fish before it went on the grill. We carefully scored the surface of the thickly cut swordfish steaks so the seasoning would penetrate into the fish and left them to marinate while we began by grilling the vegetables, skewered for convenience. When done, reserved them in foil.
As the marinated swordfish hit the grill, the flames shot up and we wound up with perfectly cooked swordfish steaks in only a few minutes. The firm flesh makes it possible to turn the fish over without it falling apart. Eddie opened a 2009 Patriarche Pere et Fils which is a Pinot Noir and let that breathe.
Finally, after the swordfish steaks were finished, we gave our asparagus just a few minutes on the grill so they were cooked, but still had a little crunch. Perfect! We used our seasoned oil to brush all of the vegetables before we did the fish and the flavours were wonderful and harmonious.
Spreading our treats out on a serving tray, we joined in the four o'clock PCYC potluck with the rest of the cruising club members. Our food was well received and the swordfish steaks were especially popular. But, the Galley Guys had to compete with a lot of other wonderful potluck contributions; lots of fresh fruit and vegetables were spread out along with some delicious cheeses, carefully prepared deviled eggs and more. The food and festivities continued for well over two hours before people began to wander back to their boats to relax. It was a great social occasion and no one left hungry!