Gentleman's Portion

A good helping of life, love and whisky

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Peccavi leaves the island behind

Peccavi leaves Toronto behind

If every crisis overcome deserves a reward, then we have earned one on this trip. We planned to sail across Lake Ontario from Toronto to Port Dalhousie, which should have been a pleasant 25 mile cruise. The wind was light and fluky at the beginning and then died to nothing. The 35-year-old eight horsepower single-cylinder diesel is a noisy beast, which I normally use only for getting on and off the dock and out of harbour. Determined to make our destination, there was no alternative but to motor across the lake. However, a slight engine coolant problem led to us pumping water into the boat’s bilges when the engine ran. Drifting in the middle of the lake, out of sight of land and even the omnipresent CN Tower, there was no alternative but to get the engine cover off and delve into the engine’s bowels. A mechanic I’m not, but with encouragement from club Fleet Captain Matt on the VHF, the fault was isolated and fixed and so began a long motor into safe harbour. A dinner with a pirate theme awaited us and we had a very pleasant visit with the folks at the Dalhousie Yacht Club.

Rozie's serves a perfect eggs benny

Rozie’s serves a perfect eggs Florentine

The reward came the next morning in the shape of my favourite breakfast – eggs Benedict. One of DYC’s very kind members drove seven of us over to Rozie’s Breakfast Café on Main Street. A companionable meal followed and the eggs Benedict were perfect, with perhaps the best and freshest Hollandaise sauce I’ve tasted in a while, tangy and lemony flavoured, along with really good home fries, tasty and not at all greasy. Complimenting our young lady server, it turns out most of the staff are related, and there really is a Rozie, back there in the kitchen churning out superb breakfasts between 0630 and 1400 hours seven days a week. Our splendid meal set us up for a long motor back to Toronto, with a glassy lake and not a breath of air. Well, if one goes cruising, one has to expect the motoring part of the experience, unless one has the luxury of waiting for beneficial winds.

Preparing eggs benny under sail near St. Maarten

Preparing eggs benny under sail near St. Maarten

I’ve enjoyed many splendid eggs benny brunch experiences. On our first ever Sunday brunch date, Diane and I enjoyed a superb version at Le Select Bistro in Toronto. Œufs Bénédicte, as they spell it on their resolutely French bistro menu, comes with two poached eggs on a croissant, Hollandaise with ham and asparagus. The eggs are from free range Mennonite raised chickens. You can taste the difference and we enjoy knowing the hens are happy birds, not confined in battery cages, but running around in the outdoors.

Joy Bistro is another of our favourite brunch spots in Toronto. They offer several unique takes on the traditional dish, including Hogtown with a cheddar mornay sauce replacing the Hollandaise and smoked cheddar and a jalapeño biscuit as a base for the eggs and ham. Their Leslieville version has peameal bacon, sautéed spinach, Yukon gold rösti potatoes and lemon Hollandaise. My favourite is what they used to call Norwentine and have now simplified to Norwegian: a traditional and delicious offering with both smoked salmon and spinach.

Further afield we enjoy simply scrumptious eggs benny in the Oak Long Bar at the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston. I’m not entirely sure of the renovations to this classic hotel dining room, but it was packed with the local crowd for cocktails and dinner. At breakfast it’s a casual affair, served at the lounges down the side of the room. My notes from the trip record “an outstanding eggs benny with shaved ham and tiny roasted tomatoes.” We offer our comments to the 72-year-old waiter, who promises to pass our praises to the chef. Their more unusual offering is styled Jonah Crab Benedict with poached eggs, local Jonah crab cake, mustard aioli and lemon hollandaise.

L to R: Eggs Royale, Benedict and Florentine

L to R: Eggs Royale, Benedict and Florentine

On the subject of sailing, I’ve also prepared eggs benny while at sea, cruising in the Caribbean. This is more difficult than it sounds as wave action can play havoc down below with a pan of boiling water. Usually, I ask one of the crew to shout “wave” when a big one is sighted, so I can lift the pan off the burners and avoid slopping boiling water and half-poached eggs on the floor. Boat stoves, you see, are gimballed from side to side, but not for fore and aft action. My culinary trick is to smuggle a pack of English muffins in my luggage (as they are simply not available down south), along with a good quality instant Hollandaise mix. Whatever comes out of the kitchen is usually consumed voraciously as sailors at sea seem to be continuously hungry. It’s something to do with all that fresh salty air.

For an easy Hollandaise recipe see my blog (THE SUBLIME EGGS BENEDICT on January 7, 2013) with my versions of eggs Florentine (spinach) and eggs royale (smoked salmon or gravlax).

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Hungry sailors ready for the feast

Hungry sailors ready for the feast

We’ve been invited to a pot-luck supper, and because there’s a sailing trip involved, I want everything prepared in advance, with no cooking on arrival. Just some last minute assembly, which I can organize in the cramped galley on the my sailboat. I’ve had compliments on my potato salad before at Harbour City Yacht Club events, so why mess with success? But I need another quite different salad as a companion. Hunting through my tattered and stained recipe card collection, I come across two recipes, one for a spinach salad and one for a beet salad. I’m torn between the two, so I decide to take a risk and incorporate the best of them both into one salad.

The key ingredients for salads will overnight in the fridge, allowing a good time for the miracle of marinading to work its magic. Then, with well secured lids, they will travel to the boat in cooler bags packed with ice, thence into the boat’s ice box until needed. Anything with eggs and mayo needs to be handled with extra care, and kept quite cool, or there’s a risk of spoiling.

The potatoes and beets are prepared and cooked first and then completely cooled before being incorporated in the recipes. The spinach is sorted and washed and re-bagged and taken separately. The mayo and sour cream sauce was made and integrated with the potatoes overnight, but the dressing for the beets and spinach was left until last minute. Hard boiled eggs, chopped spring onions, chopped candied walnuts and chopped goat feta were transported in separate containers and added at the last minute.

Since the outward bound journey threatened rain squalls, nothing was packed in glass. Smart salad bowls were left behind, in favour of a couple of 5 quart stainless steel bowls, which cool better and can withstand rough handling, possibly banging about in the icebox.

Pot-lucks are always a challenge for the organizer, as one never really knows what to expect, but club social director Lynne managed brilliantly. A waterfront gazebo had been set aside for our party, which in the end numbered more than 30 people travelling on 11  boats. A propane BBQ had been borrowed from The Oakville Club, kindly organized by their outstanding dockmaster Larry. Long tables were set with pristine white cloths and the food was brought ashore from the assembled fleet of boats. Fortunately there were no burgers to tempt us (we are off red meat at the moment) but plenty of delicious chicken. I counted chicken prepared four different ways, but there may have been more, all delicious. There were appetizers galore, plentiful salads, and cup cakes and butter tarts for dessert. Stuffed, and quite tired after an exhausting sail through the squalls, I hit my bunk unusually early, but the rest of the party went on until the small hours.

Red Skinned Potato SaladSalad 2

Serves 12
Preparation time 15 min
Cooking and chilling time 3 ½ hr

3 lb (about 15) unpeeled cooked red potatoes, cut into chunks
1 cup low-fat sour cream
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp white vinegar
4 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
1 dill pickle, chopped
2 cups celery stalk, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
1 dash hot sauce
1 tbsp dried dill weed
1/2 tsp garlic powder
black pepper to taste

Preparation and cooking
1. Place the potatoes in a pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork. Do not overcook. Drain, and transfer to a large bowl to cool. Cut into cubes.
2. Place the fresh eggs in cold water, salt well, and bring the water to a boil. Turn off the heat and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 10 min. Cool the eggs and leave in their shells until ready to garnish.
3. In a medium bowl, mix the sour cream, mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, pickle, celery and hot sauce. Season with dill, garlic powder, onion salt, salt, and pepper. Pour over the potatoes, and gently toss to coat. Chill at least 3 hours in the refrigerator before serving.
4. Garnish with chopped eggs and chopped green onions.

Beet and Spinach Salad with Goat FetaSalad 1

Serves 12
Preparation time 10 min
Cooking and chilling time 45 min

8 medium cooked beets – scrubbed, trimmed and cut into chunks
1 cup chopped walnuts
6 tablespoons maple syrup
2 (10 ounce) package mixed baby spinach leaves
1 cup (295 ml) frozen orange juice concentrate
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces goat feta

Preparation and cooking
1. Place beets into a saucepan, and fill with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until tender. Drain and cool, then cut in to cubes.
2. While the beets are cooking, place the walnuts in a skillet over medium-low heat. Heat until warm and starting to toast, then stir in the maple syrup. Cook and stir until evenly coated, then remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice concentrate, balsamic vinegar and olive oil to make the dressing. Add a little dressing to the completely cooled beets to allow them to marinade.
4. To assemble, put the spinach in a bowl, add the balance of the dressing and toss well to cover. Add the beets little by little and mix in well. Garnish with the goat feta and broken up candied walnuts.

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Windswept pines on Lake Huron's shore

Windswept pines on Lake Huron’s shore

When we tell friends in England that we sail on a lake, they imagine something like Windemere in the Lake District, or a pond like the local gravel pit near Oundle, Northamptonshire, where as a schoolboy I learned to sail dinghies. Hardly.

The Great Lakes, consisting of Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario form the Earth’s largest group of fresh water lakes, with 21 per cent of the world’s fresh water at 94,250 square miles (almost a quarter million square kilometres). Our own Lake Ontario is one of the smallest at merely 7,340 square miles (19,000 square k.)  Its about 190 miles long (311 k.) and 50 miles wide (85 k.) and is about one third the size of the English Channel, so there’s plenty of opportunities for cruising.

Like the English Channel, the lakes can throw up some mighty storms. and the waters abound with shipwrecks. Canadian folk legend Gordon Lightfoot memorialized the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in song. It disappeared in a November storm in 1975, on Lake Superior, the last major freighter to be lost with all hands on the lakes.

Peccavi, my 27 foot sloop, is a tough and seaworthy boat and I would trust her in the vilest weather, though we don’t venture out later than September. This trust is based on experience, for she has seen out a few storms on the lake. On one occasion, returning from Wilson, NY, a nasty line of black appeared on the horizon to the west. Nothing serious had been forecast, but little line squalls can pop up any time when the weather is hot and humid. I had time to take down my jib and stow it below – in those days I had not yet invested in a roller furling affair which does the job in seconds – and put a couple of reefs in the main sail. I asked the crew to go below and pass up first, my foul weather gear and second, my life jacket, but before I could get anything on, the squall had hit.

To put things into perspective: we had been sailing along in what the Beaufort Scale describes as a moderate breeze, or about 15 knots, when in seconds the wind speed grew to about 30 knots, or a near gale. I had two options, run into the wind, fighting the waves that were sure to arise, and rely on my tiny eight-horsepower single-cylinder diesel engine. Or change course before things got worse, run before the storm, and hope it blew past me. As I was turning the boat, still on a relatively flat lake, the wind speed picked up again. Now it was blowing at more than 35 knots, described as gale force winds.

The definition of a gale on the scale, invented by and named after a Royal Navy Admiral a couple of centuries ago, is as follows: moderately high waves with breaking crests forming spindrift; well-marked streaks of foam blown along the wind direction; considerable airborne spray. Not to mention the driving rain hitting my face and stinging like hail. With our handkerchief of sail let right out, we roared along, quite surpassing our normal top boat speed as we surfed down the waves. For about half an hour we just hung on and toughed it out. My boat has a tiller rather than a wheel and the pressure on it from the following waves was immense, but I dare not let go, for to do so would allow the boat to turn sideways to the wind and broach. Sounds better than capsize, but that would be the result if the wind blew full strength on the side of the hull.

Eventually the squall passed, the sun broke out, I put on dry clothes, and checked the GPS for our position. We had been blown nearly 30 miles off course. We resumed our journey to the Ontario side, eventually found land as the afternoon wore on and then on engine power alone, slogged into the much disturbed lake for what seemed like hours, to get back to safe haven in Toronto harbour.

Cooking soup with the boat at a 15 degree heel

Cooking soup with the boat at a 15 degree heel

The facilities on Peccavi are well organized, but a tight fit. In the bow (pointy end) there is a V-berth arrangement, which sleeps two in a very cosy manner. Under the bunk is a fresh water tank and a sewage holding tank. Nothing gets pumped into the lake, which has improved water quality enormously over the years. Then there is a little space with a head and washbasin to port (left) and a hanging locker to starboard (right). To get some privacy the locker door folds out one way and the head door folds out the other. Then coming aft again, there is the main cabin. A bench down the port side makes up into a decent single bunk, and a bench on the starboard side works for small people in an emergency. One of the cushions comes off and they have to sleep with their feet in the base of the hanging locker.

A complex folding table is fastened up against the bulkhead, but comes down and provides a decent eating space for four. The main cabin is tall enough to walk around if one is under six feet. The aperture between cabins is much lower and has a brass sign on it: No bloody swearing. My Dad gave it to me when I was about 20. He said I would need it one day. Aft (towards the back) of the bunks there is a small galley with a two-burner gimballed alcohol stove, much safer than propane, where one can make a cup of tea or heat up some hot soup on a long watch. On the other side there’s a deep ice-box, that keeps things cool the old fashioned way, with a new block of ice every couple of days. Everywhere one looks, behind, below and underneath, there is storage, wonderfully arranged to stow everything we need for a short overnight trip.

Heeled over, toes nearly touching the water

Heeled over, toes nearly touching the water

Of course, we have the full complement of life jackets, our own and extra foul weather gear for guests, spare dry clothes, towels, safety flares, a full tool bag, spare GPS, spare VHF radios and much more. In the cockpit at the stern (back) there’s not much room when we are sailing. Sometimes the boat tips at an angle of more than 25 degrees and the leeward rail touches the water. That’s when things get interesting. We sit with our feet propped on the opposite locker so we don’t slide off the benches, though Diane finds this a struggle as she’s not very tall. In the four lockers we’re sitting on, there are more supplies, spare sails, mooring lines, fenders and  bailing equipment. We feel confidently equipped and we have never, touch wood, had to use any of our safety gear.

I’m passionate about sailing. Even now, when I get on the boat, the indications of age magically melt away. I plan to keep going until the funeral pyres are burning.

Have a look at my You Tube video: you’ll see a man really enjoying himself sailing in Toronto Harbour.

CREDITS: Many thanks to Ron Shaw of Magnacom, who did the fine camera work, David Barkworth who skippered the chase boat Dab Hand, and Amy McConnell of Femme Cachée Productions, who re-edited the original footage down to a minute and found the ideal piece of music on the Forrest Gump soundtrack.

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Island 6

Beach fun (slightly illegal) on Toronto Island

Living as we do in a mid-city townhouse, it’s nice to get away on hot sunny days.

It almost seems like we have a private cottage on Toronto Island, just a 12 minute ferry ride from Queen’s Quay, much more convenient than a four hour struggle north to the Muskoka Lakes in dense traffic. Of course, it’s not really a cottage but our little sailing boat, where we can sleep over if we choose, although we seldom do. The view of the city is sublime. Through the trees we can see the tall bank buildings, the omnipresent CN Tower, the Dome and a forest of cranes building high rise condos, but without the noise, the crowds or the hustle and bustle.

As we step onto the Toronto Island Marine private tender (we have season passes, but the ticket is only $5 for the public) and greet one of the friendly boat drivers, the tension seems to slip away. Moments later we are pushing off the dock and chugging across the harbour on a short ride to another world. From the island dock it’s a five minute walk to our boat. We might stop at the Upper Deck bar for a refreshment, or just pick up a bag of ice at the chandlery, but within minutes the lure of the boat beckons.

The Upper Deck: best kept secret on the island

The Upper Deck: best kept secret on the island

Along a narrowish long dock and then onto an even narrower finger dock, Peccavi awaits at her slip. She’s a yellow hulled 27-foot long Canadian Sailcraft sloop, or CS 27 for short. These boats were well built in the 70s and 80s before the CS company slid into oblivion, and the fact that there are plenty of them still sailing around the lake is witness to their sturdy construction. Most of them come with some colour on the hull, the fashion in those days: two friends have CS 27s on the same dock and they are white hulled with a blue stripe. There’s another yellow-hulled CS27 in the harbour and a couple more down the lake and we sometimes pass with an ironic wave. Our stripe is white and the sail cover and mooring lines are black, making the overall effect a bit like a striped tiger — her original name was Tigger.

Peccavi dicing with the ferry in Toronto Harbour

Peccavi dicing with the ferry in Toronto Harbour

I changed her name to Peccavi for purely whimsical reasons. Ever since I discovered a delicious quote by an ancestor in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations when I was about 15, I had been set on using Peccavi as a boat name. “Peccavi” means “I have sinned” in Latin (Benedice me, patre, quia peccavi in the old Roman Latin rite or “Bless me, father, for I have sinned.”) Sir Charles Napier, a general in his day, sent a one word punning telegram – Peccavi – to his boss, Lord Ellenborough, on the conquest of the city of Sindh, in what is now Pakistan, during the Indian Mutiny in 1843.

The little house martins like to sit on the lifelines and leave me presents. The damned geese leave bigger offerings on the dock, but five minutes work with the hose cleans all away. Half an hour with a scrub brush and a bucket of environmentally friendly soapy water and the whole boat is gleaming again. I love working on the boat. In the spring we have a yard worker polish the hull while it’s still on the hard, and then after launch I get a teenager to wax the topsides, but apart from that I do all the work. When all is clean and dry, the sail cover comes off and we motor out of the harbour. The 35-year-old single cylinder eight horse power diesel engine starts first time, every time. I say: Good girl. Boats are girls and like to be complimented.

Depending on the wind, we can leave the harbour from the east or west gaps, and then we are out on the lake and headed for wherever we want to go. Together Diane and I have sailed to Port Credit, Oakville and Bronte, and I’ve single handed across the lake to Lewiston, Wilson and Olcott, NY, as well as Niagara-on-the-Lake and Port Dalhousie. Not long cruises, such as we undertake in the Caribbean, but pleasant enough, with a day or two spent in another harbour, before the return sail. Our next cruise will be to the Oakville Club where the pool and excellent dining room will be a welcome diversion. Our little island club, Harbour City Yacht Club, organizes the cruises. It has a floating club house in the marina and is entirely self-help. If work needs to be done, volunteers are organized and do the work. At the moment the club house is undergoing renovations. Last year we built a huge deck. A few years ago we rebuilt the bridge from the land to the club, as the old one had sunk without trace. For a few years it was my privilege to be the Commodore, an elected position which means you get to do even more work. Diane thinks we should have a T-shirt which reads: Definitely not the RCYC. The Royal Canadian Yacht Club is old, big and expensive, but a lot of their members come to our marina bar, which is clearly more fun, with no rules and no stuffy behaviour allowed.

HCYC's floating clubhouse welcomes sailors from other clubs

HCYC’s floating island clubhouse welcomes sailors from other clubs

Sometimes we just sail around the island. Diane can’t really see the attraction of doing this again and again, but I point out that whereas powerboating is the act of going somewhere by water as fast as possible and by the most direct route, for true sailors, sailing it’s the act of going out on the water that’s important and the destination is irrelevant. Every time we go out, something is different and that’s what makes each journey interesting. At the moment the lake is very high, so there’s little risk of running aground. But last year, towing a teenager (of the boat polishing kind) on a line behind the boat, we ran smack dab into a sandbar near the beach at Gibraltar Point. We backed off easily, but it’s smart to pay attention the whole time when out sailing.

Diane's pink bike on a blustery day

Diane’s pink bike on a blustery day

When there’s no wind, we get on our bicycles: mine is a bit rusted and silver, but still works quite well, and Diane’s is pink. My silver bike is my third on the island, the previous two having been borrowed by local folk and not returned. My own fault for not keeping them locked up. My present security device is indestructible aircraft cable almost three-quarters of an inch thick with an integral lock. No one has borrowed this one yet. Diane’s pink bike attracts attention and compliments whenever she’s out. When I ride it down to the island at the beginning of the season, I get comments too, some of them not so complimentary.

We cycle off to The Rectory Café for lunch, or down to the Queen City Yacht Club, where I’ve been made an honorary member, for breakfast. Or down around the quaint little clapboard houses on Ward’s Island, which have all been handed down within families. The ground under them is owned by the city and the waiting list to buy is years long, and that’s only if you are inheriting one. The community is vibrant and survives through the winter. The houses are quirky and the gardens luxuriant. The community centre, where I’ve been to some wild music evenings in the past, boasts a new café. The nearby beach is the best on the island, being sheltered by the long Leslie Street Spit.

The old lighthouse

The old lighthouse

In the other direction, we ride over the Centre Island hump back bridge and turn right down towards the lighthouse, long abandoned and reputedly haunted. Then we continue through verdant parkland until we come to Gibraltar Point beach. Good swimming territory. Close by is the nude beach, mostly gay, they say, though I’ve never been there. Diane walked her bearded collie here, once, and Amy had a lot of fun sniffing various things, and I don’t mean doggy things.

A Porter plane leaves just a trail in the night sky

A Porter plane leaves just a trail in the night sky

While we admire Porter Airlines, we despise their efforts to bring jets to the island, in direct conflict with their tripartite agreement. They want to extend the runway into the harbour, and no one in the boating community likes that idea. They might as well fill the whole thing in and make it a parking lot. Even though they claim their planes are quiet, you should sit in a silent sail boat under their path as they come in. May I observe that they’re not really quiet. Jets would be worse.

Back at the marina, we close the boat up again, put on the sail cover and lock the hatches. At the end of the dock other boaters have established gardens, picnic tables, lounge chairs, BBQs and more. Almost cottage country for them. That’s not for us, but we smile and chat on the way out.  We head for the Upper Deck, where we’re always welcome and where we run a weekly tab. They carry my brand of bar Scotch and they serve a Gentleman’s Portion. What could be better?



Niagara sails into Toronto Harbour

Niagara sails into Toronto Harbour

The tall ships sailed into Toronto Harbour yesterday afternoon, white sails piled up into the sky like cumulus clouds, cannons firing and generally putting on a wonderful show. I was watching out particularly for the US Privateer Lynx. Captain Stefan Edick had first messaged me at 05 dark 30 to say they had their best day’s sailing yet the day before and a gentle sail overnight and that they had arrived off Toronto. As they’ve sailed up the lake, we’ve become quite acquainted electronically and I’m really looking forward to meeting him. I was glad they had the morning to get their ship squared away before parading in with several  other visiting tall ships.

The fireboat, sending cannons of water spraying into the air marks the start of the procession, leading these majestic ships through the harbour’s Eastern Gap. Unicorn is followed by Lynx, then Pride of Baltimore II, Niagara and finally Sorlandet, the largest vessel in the fleet, from Norway.

Sorlandet dressed to kill

Sorlandet dressed to kill

While the others are under sail, Sorlandet has doused her sails, dressing the ship with signal flags, and posing the crew handsomely in the rigging.

Privateer Lynx takes aim at the writer

Privateer Lynx takes aim at the writer

Several ships mount cannons and they’re fired off with great enthusiasm. I’m pleased Lynx has the loudest charge. No stinting on powder for Captain Stefan. As his ship comes level with the spot where I’m waiting with the Harbourmaster and a line handling crew–and I’m sure he was completely unaware of my presence–the starboard cannon is pointing right at me as it discharges. I’m so startled I’m amazed the picture turned out. Diane, standing beside me, actually squeaks.

The fireboat salutes the tall ships

The fireboat salutes the tall ships

Along Harbour Square Park East, Niagara docks first, her yards sticking so far over her sides that they almost touch the trees along the boardwalk. Then in comes Pride II, graceful as an ocean greyhound, her square rigged yards pulled back almost fore and aft. Finally it was time to squeeze Lynx into the dock, and she made it very nicely, but her bowsprit hung off the end of the dock by many feet. Fortunately, the pirate ship, Liana’s Ransom, docked at right angles is not going out during their stay.

While docking is taking place, re-enactors are rehearsing in the period village that has sprung up in the park behind us. Swords clash, lines are declaimed and Canada generally wins the war of 1812 again. I wonder what our three visiting historic American ships will make of that when the show opens to the public this morning.

Pride of Baltimore II and Niagara docked at Harbour Square Park East

Pride of Baltimore II and Niagara docked at Harbour Square Park East

I spend the afternoon on board, chatting with various members of the crew as Captain Stefan wrestles with the bureaucracy at Canada Border Services Agency. Finally all is organized and the crew and passengers can go ashore. The 1812 displays are set up in the park nearby and ready for today’s onslaught of visitors. The ships are spread along the waterfront. The whole Redpath Waterfront Festival is free, but access to the ships is by coded wristband. Those have to be ordered online through the Festival website in advance or bought onsite. The weather promises to be fair and this is something really worth a visit. Come early and be prepared for line-ups.

The official opening ceremonies take place in HTO Park at 1830 tonight and as I hinted in my last story, Lynx will be firing her cannon as she sails past as part of a dramatic performance. The Parade of Sail concludes the Festival with a sailpast of all the ships starting at 1600 on Sunday. Between times, there are lots of other activities and best of all the ships are all open for deck tours, starting at 1000 today through 1300 Sunday.

Cook Koriander Pepper encourages Nigel to help with crew dinner

Cook Koriander Pepper encourages Nigel to help with crew dinner

Meanwhile, Chief Mate Cheyenne Dutcher arranges for me to get a commemorative Lynx cap and T-shirt and introduces me to the cook for a tour of the boat. The cook, I kid you not, is named Koriander Pepper. How could she not be a ship’s cook? First up she offered me home made ginger snaps. I compliment her. She texts me the recipe. I ask her for the recipe to her success in feeding the crew. She has three secrets. First: the food is always served on time; second, the food is hot; and third, the food is plentiful. The crew work so hard and so continuously that they’re always hungry. Apparently, quality is not a consideration, the food just better be there when they need it, piping hot and lots of it. The bonus is that everyone I spoke to was full of praise for this talented young woman at the start of her career. The Captain said she makes the best pie crust he’s ever had afloat. Others commented on the fresh bread she bakes every day. The four paying guest crew members, all mature folks, were equally forthcoming on Kori’s talents in the tiny galley.

Then she shows me how she lights the strange diesel fuelled range and invites me to help prep dinner for the few crew members who are dining on board. She has peeled green apples simmering in a sauce of onions, nutmeg, fresh ginger and diced habañero peppers. I help by slicing up some chicken breasts, stirring them in and making sure nothing is going to burn. A big pot of rice is ready to serve. The smells in the galley are wonderful. Although I enjoyed sailing talk with the Captain and the Chief Mate, this was the highlight of my day.

Later, as I was driving the Captain and Chief Mate to a private dinner party, Kori emails me her recipe and a picture of her dish, which I am very pleased to share below.

Apple Habañero Chicken from Koriander Pepper, Privateer Lynx cook

Apple Habañero Chicken

Apple Habañero Chicken – photo by Kori

Serves 6

1/2 cup butter
1/2 a whole nutmeg, grated
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
2 habañero peppers, diced fine
1 large green apple, cored and sliced fine
1/2 medium onion, sliced
4 large chicken breasts, sliced
Salt, pepper and garlic to taste

Simmer the chicken in the sauce, covered, until the chicken is just cooked. Serve with rice and salad.



Roseway and Pride of Baltimore II tack across Toronto Harbour in 2010

Roseway and Pride of Baltimore II tack across Toronto Harbour in 2010

Every few years, the Tall Ships come to Toronto and this year’s Redpath Waterfront Festival starts with the arrival of the Tall Ship fleet on Wednesday, June 19 and continues through their departure on Sunday, June 23 with the 4 pm Parade of Sail along Harbourfront. Ship visits and deck tours start on Thursday, June 20. There’s nothing quite so magnificent as a tall ship under sail. I love the names of some of their more exotic sails: staysail, topgallant, maintopsail, mizzensail, spanker. On a three-masted square-rigged tall ship there are 21 sails one can name. My little boat has four. Easier to handle too.

Europa docked at Harbourfront in 2010

Europa docked at Harbourfront in 2010

Back in the summer of 2010, our Toronto Island-based yacht club was asked to host one of the beautiful sailing ships coming into dock along Queen’s Quay for that year’s Tall Ships Festival. The Dutch-owned Europa was the lead ship in the fleet and venue for the opening ceremonies, so as one of the volunteers we had a chance to dress up and go aboard. Diane and I both have love affairs with tall ships.

Diane revisits Europa

Diane revisits Europa

Diane sailed on Europa from Bermuda to Norfolk, Virginia, with her Dutch godson several years ago and was looking forward to seeing the boat again. Diane related stories of how Europa’s cheap captain brought out the same old tired cheese for breakfast each morning and refused to run the generator to run the desalinator to make fresh water for showers. Apparently he’s long gone, but they still run what was called in the Royal Navy, a tight ship. Apart from the cheese and lack of showers, I think she really enjoyed the experience.

2010 opening ceremonies as the Fort York fife and drum band pass Europa

2010 opening ceremonies as the Fort York fife and drum band pass Europa

The vessel our club volunteered to assist was the Boston and U.S. Virgin Island-based schooner Roseway, home to the World Ocean School  since 2005. Launched in Massachusetts in 1925, she is one of only six original Grand Banks schooners left afloat, and the only one specifically designed to compete with the Nova Scotians in the international fishing vessel races, which also featured our own Canadian Bluenose. She’s had a colourful history including serving as a pilot boat during WW II.

Roseway under full sail

Roseway under full sail

Watching her sail into Toronto harbour on a sunny late June afternoon, I got a catch in my throat. As she tacked with the Pride of Baltimore II, her immense boom swung over, her red sails filled with wind on her new course and she came closer to her Harbourfront berth. The sails were handily doused and it was clear that her crew of professional sailors and volunteer students had learned their craft. On board we enjoyed meeting the captain and first mate, helped them with crowd control and other chores, ran a departing crew member out to the airport to catch an early flight home, and generally made ourselves useful. On the departure sail past we watched the fleet come out of the harbour, with full suits of sail rigged, from my own boat. It was an awe inspiring sight and as I helmed my 27 foot sloop alongside Roseway’s 137 foot length, we felt truly dwarfed. But we managed to keep up for a while until the traffic got too hairy and we tacked away.

Ship board visits are a highlight

Ship board visits are a highlight

Toronto harbour has its own resident fleet of tall ships. Kajama is a 164 foot three-masted gaff-rigged schooner, built in Germany in 1930 and refitted in 2000,  Empire Sandy is a 200 foot three-masted tern schooner, built in the UK in 1943 and refitted in the 1980s,  and Challenge is a 96 foot three-masted schooner.

Two training vessels make Toronto their home, although they are often out and about in the Great Lakes. The sail training vessel (STV) Pathfinder is a 72 foot two-masted square-rigged Canadian built brigantine launched in 1963. The training ship (TS) Playfair is a 72 foot two-masted square-rigged Canadian built brigantine launched in 1974.

I’ve been communicating with Captain Stefan Edick, whose ship we have been chosen to assist during this year’s visit. They’ve had a tough voyage through the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but they are on their way.

Privateer Lynx under full sail on her way to Toronto

Privateer Lynx under full sail on her way to Toronto

Privateer Lynx is a Baltimore Schooner, square top-sail rigged and 122 feet long. Custom built from wood in Rockport, Maine, and launched in 2001, she is a replica of the War of 1812 privateer of the same name. Her visit to Toronto coincides with many of the ceremonies surrounding that historic conflict with our neighbours to the south, which included the destruction of Fort York in Toronto and the retaliatory burning of the White House in Washington. I’m not sure how welcome a Canadian-Brit will be on board, but we will overcome history and hold out a welcoming hand. The crew  wear period uniforms. Lynx will be berthed at Harbour Square Park along with other period vessels and that’s where our Harbour City Yacht Club volunteers will be on hand to help out.

Privateer Lynx fires a salute

Privateer Lynx fires a salute

Lynx is also fully equipped with period weaponry, including authentic and functioning carronade and swivel guns, muskets, pistols, cutlasses and more. During the official opening ceremonies starting at 6:45 pm on Thursday, June 20, Lynx will sail past HTO Park and I expect she will fire her guns, though that hasn’t been announced. This is the ship to see, so come on down and visit.

PS: Please leave a comment and share your visit to a tall ship.



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40 foot charter catamaran

We’re in Placencia, Belize, in Central America for our one week catamaran charter along the largest barrier reef outside Australia, with a few days either side for exploration ashore (see my blog of April 21, 2013). The chain of coral cayes and reefs stretch 350 miles from southern Yucatan to southern Belize. Cousins from Calgary and Toronto and their spouses and partners are joining Diane and I, along with professional sailor Kat, who we’ve brought out for the first few days until we get used to handling the boat. As it turns out the marina staff will drive us on and off the dock, so no risk of banging into other boats here. Apart from that it is open water with little to hit except sand bars and coral reefs.

On departure day, Kat and I attend the skippers’ briefing and draw up our sail plan, while the rest of the gang hit the small local supermarket for provisions. Our boat is a Robertson and Caine built Moorings 4000, which means it is about 40 feet long and nearly 20 feet wide — a pig to sail. It has four cabins and two heads with showers in the pontoons, but the key advantage of a cat is the huge main cabin and galley in the bridge between. The boat allows plenty of room for our group of seven. At the back there is a large deck with seating under a hard Bimini top, critical in the relentless sun, and a raised steering platform. In front, aft of the self furling jib, is a huge net strung between the pontoons and the best place to sunbathe and watch the waves. With Kat’s help, I will be able to overcome its sailing deficiencies and enjoy a good ride.

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Kat’s Katamaran Kruise krew

We chug down the muddy lagoon on the mainland side of the peninsular and are in crystal clear open water in minutes. Our first overnight stop is Lark Caye (spelled key in Florida, cay in The Bahamas and quay in Toronto, another of those quaint English language spelling anomalies). It is a mangrove covered island. After dinner I distributed our custom designed team T-shirts, decorated with signal flags reading O and P, with the legend “Kat’s Katamaran Kruise” in a logo on the sleeve. The signal flags indicate “officially pissed,” the normal state for sailors off-duty, and a good excuse for being silly. We have several excellent cooks on board so I’m excused galley duties to concentrate on taking over as skipper when Kat leaves after a couple of days. Exiting Lark Caye, the water is so clear it looks dangerously shallow. Individual coral heads seem determined to rip our hull open as we pass overhead. But the depth sounder shows a good 12 feet below the keel and we are quite safe.

Over the next few days we sail up the protected inland channel visiting coral atoll jewels such as Cocoa Plum Caye (an indifferent dinner ashore), South Caye, Quamino Caye, North West Caye, Cat Caye, North East Caye and No Name Caye. Unlike the crowded sailing spots in the British Virgin Islands and the Grenadines, these cayes are almost deserted. We see perhaps half a dozen other yachts the whole week. We return to base to drop Kat off, as she is skippering another charter in the Windward Islands, and effect some repairs. We have been hit by a really big following wave, which broke one of the dinghy davits. Repairs will take more than a day. No problem, they give us another boat. We swap over our gear and head back out, this time to Ranguana Caye.

Little more than a few shacks

Ranguana Caye

This turns out to be the highlight of our trip. The caye is a private two acre island, managed by Robert’s Grove Beach Resort. Cook Pat is reputed to be the best in southern Belize, and her husband Ernest, a fine bartender. The dining area is sandy floored under a palapa. The cook shack has a generator, where Pat whips up food for the three guest cabin occupants and visiting sailors on a beat up electric stove. We sample two types of chicken, conch fritters, fried green bananas, coconut rice and shrimp and drink lots of rum punch at the bar.

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Cook Pat shares the secret of conch fritters

Our first night on two anchors is lumpy, and when the wind swings around they get tangled up, so after all the other boats leave, we decide to move into more sheltered waters and pick up a mooring buoy. As I’m now officially skipper, the tricky manoeuvre is my responsibility with two guys and three ladies to offer advice. The cat, which normally handles well with an engine in each pontoon, is acting up. Only one propeller is functioning and getting a 20 foot by 40 foot bathtub to go where I want it in a 23 knot cross wind, between some very close coral heads, takes all my patience and then some more. Eventually we pick up the buoy and make fast. The weather is deteriorating so that makes the decision to stay an easy one.

We have a dinghy and the barrier reef is less than half a mile away. We can hear the surf. One of the party has brought Scuba gear and checks the anchors and mooring buoys as well as swimming with friendly dolphins. Their presence means there are no sharks around, so swimming is safe. Just in case, I wear a shark’s tooth given to me in the British Virgin Islands more than 40 years ago. The good luck talisman clearly works and I have bought another one in Placencia village for Diane.

The caye is perhaps 200 yards long, with a population of several dogs. Diane feeds one, named Goldie, and I scratch her tummy, so we’re her new best friends. When Diane gets attacked by a greedy pelican, Goldie sees her off. Good dog. We spend our extra day lazing in the hammocks along the beach and looking for shells. Ernest collects coconuts from the trees and cores the meat out with a peculiar machine. As soon as he’s done hermit crabs come scurrying out of the shadows to scrounge the left overs. Pat shows Diane her secret recipe for conch fritters and makes us fresh bread and coconut cream pie to take back to the boat. It’s an idyllic couple of days at the edge of the reef and a paradise to wait out the stormy weather, which quickly passes.

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Queen Cayes, a picture perfect spot

Our final visit is to the Queen Cayes, a popular tourist spot, with two large toilets on one tiny coral atoll. A smart idea when parties of 50 or more snorkellers come for a BBQ. We are blessed by being one of only two boats in the sheltered lagoon. The park rangers lift $10US each for an overnight stay. The snorkelling and diving are perfect with clouds of coloured fish in the water. Pelicans, boobies and frigate birds perch in the palm trees and a small pod of dolphins play in the water. After the weather of the past few days, it was a pleasant change to have a flat calm overnight, but that means no wind for sailing on our last day. So we motor home on a peculiar course determined by our one engine. When we return to base, it appears one of the propellers has snapped it’s retaining pin and spun off. No problem, they say. The insurance covers it, fortunately.

We head ashore for a few days to get our land legs back and then home to the cold, another great cruising experience over — until the next one.

PS: Please leave a comment if you found something useful or interesting in this story. Or please add your own experiences with these destinations for others to share.