Aboard the Sloop Clearwater for dinner

chefs consortium clearwater composite

By Daniel B.

Most days I don't think about the Hudson River. I don't ponder its historical significance. I don't fret about the health of the fishery. Nor do I long to spend any time on its banks. And I'm not alone.

This is why more than forty years ago, folk singer Pete Seeger decided to build a boat. And not just any boat. His boat would be a 106-foot wooden replica of the ships that traversed the Hudson River 200 years ago. It would be called the sloop Clearwater, and its goal would be to bring people to the river.

The boat itself is stunning. It casts a striking figure on the water with its 108-foot mast and 3,000 square foot mainsail. This vessel would be a stunning museum piece, but it is in active use on the river, sailing as far south as New York City and as far north as Albany. The general public can even buy a ticket for a day sail. Money raised from such activities helps to fund the organization's core objectives of environmental education and advocacy.

Recently the Chefs Consortium, a regional group of local food advocates, organized a dinner for thirty people on board the Clearwater sailing out of Kingston.

So what's it like to eat the Hudson Valley's bounty while sailing on the Hudson?

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First thing's first. You don't want to miss the boat. So you come early. Which is good, because there is a fine selection of regional cheeses and some light snacks before getting on board. Some of these include crostini with a garlic paste made from bulbs that were just dug up that morning.

Soon it's time to board, and the first thing you notice is the size of the Clearwater crew. They are everywhere. It takes a lot of people to run and maintain this boat. Which is not to say there isn't a role for the guests.

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Upon boarding the captain gives a brief talk about safety and crewmember Jocelyn provides an overview of the sloop and the organization. Jocelyn is also a pretty good singer, and she teaches everyone a sea shanty to sing while those of able body hoist the sail. Getting the sail up the mast is no small feat. It's huge. And you have to lift the 65-foot wooden boom, too. Guests break into two teams, one on the port side (left) and the other on starboard (right).

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But once the sail is up, there are rewards.

First the engine is cut, and all of a sudden things get awfully peaceful. The next thing you hear is the sound of sparkling wine being opened from America's oldest winery, Brotherhood in Washingtonville. All the wines were from New York and included chardonnay from Fox Run Vineyards, a white meritage from Lamoreaux Landing, pinot noir from Tousey Winery in Clermont, and a Bordeaux blend from Cereghino Smith. There was also some cassis from Clinton Vineyards for making Kir Royale.

Then the music starts.

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Valerie June started off playing classic folk tunes on a variety of fretted instruments. And she sang while the first few courses were being served.

By now people had settled in and we're sitting along the sides of the cabin, looking out over the gunwales, enjoying the views of the river and the shore. Food came out from the galley below and given the environmental mission of the Clearwater, everything was served with biodegradable plates and cutlery. Even the cups would dissolve if left out in the heat of the sun.

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The first course was from New World chef Ric Orlando, who put together a strawberry and Nettle Meadow goat cheese bruschetta with balsamic vinegar for the event. Those who were patient and let the toppings sit on the bread and absorb some of their liquid were rewarded with a tastier morsel.

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It was a bright and sunny day. Most of the time, there was a good breeze on the river. But still, it was a delight to have a refreshing soup course in the form of a Watermelon gazpacho with cucumber, red onion, and feta from Four Brothers Creamery. This dish was conceived by Bob Turner, executive chef of the Omega Institute of Holistic Studies. The cracker with little bits of rosemary really made the soup come alive.

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More substantial food came in the form of a Plowman's Platter assembled by Rebecca Joyner of the Darrow School. It contained slices of chicken kielbasa from Northwind Farm and greens from the South Pine Street City Farm in Kingston. But perhaps the tastiest thing of the whole experience was the wedge of Mayhill cheese from Hawthorne Valley Farm which was topped by damson plum preserves from Beth's Farm Kitchen.

On every Clearwater sail it is a custom to observe a moment of silence. Without the music or the festive sounds of people eating and enjoying eachothers company, all that you could hear was the wind and the waves lapping against the hull of the boat as she cut through the water. It was remarkably peaceful, and surprisingly meditative.

The silence is broken by the crew taking up their instruments and playing a song. Soon after Valerie June played with the crew, although we were treated to a rousing rendition of "Particle Man" by the crew themselves later on the sail.

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But there was still more food, in the form of kale and seaweed salad, cucumbers, marinated Local Ocean bronzini, which was made by natural foods chef Noel Conklin. The fish was amazing. It was firm and delicate, served raw in a sweet and salty Asian-style marinade. The kale salad could have been improved had the leaves been more finely sliced. For most people this was all about the fish.

Really, there were two dessert courses (not pictured). Josh Needleman of Chocolate Springs in Lenox provided a local strawberry sorbet with cocoa nibs. This was followed by Rebecca passing around a tray filled with his flavored chocolate paves.

Throughout the sail, boats and other recreational watercraft kept coming abreast of the sloop Clearwater to get a better look. Some took pictures. One of the crew told me that it's like living in a fishbowl. Whether other boaters were attracted to the vessel's fame or just the unusual occurrence of seeing such a historic looking ship under sail is hard to say. But it made being on board feel even more special.

Eventually, the sail had to come down, and the engine was turned back on as we headed for the dock. And before we had to leave, I was already looking forward to coming back again.

I don't know if it was the spirit of the crew, the tranquility of the sail, or all the good food and company, but that evening I was totally bitten by the Clearwater bug. Part of me would like to volunteer on board for a couple weeks. But that might be too challenging to schedule. Hopefully this Chefs Consortium event will become an annual affair, and I'll have another excuse to make it onboard.

Daniel B. is the proprietor of the FUSSYlittleBLOG. He also writes reviews for the Chefs Consortium.

Comments

..."crostini with a garlic paste made from bulbs that were just dug up that morning."

Love this post- sounds like an amazing experience. I have fond memories of a sail on the Clearwater as a 3rd grader, about 23 years ago. The experience was very similar- I remember the dads helping to raise the sail, the singing crew, the moment of silence-- but instead of gourmet local food we examined the water for signs of life and pollution.

I'd love to take another sail - thanks for the great post!

This looks divine! A dinner sail for two would make a nice wedding present - fitting the "affordable with the help of friends also not interested in using a registry" kind of gift category.

I wonder if they plan to make this happen on a regular basis?

For a number of years my nephew lived on a sail boat in San Francisco Bay with two gals.
He left that carefree life when he found the love of his life, Stacey and moved to Santa Cruz, Ca..
He bought a sail making company.
Unfortunatly his 200 year old company could not compete with Europe,and Japan, and it closed.
My nephew, Michael would love to run a company like this in our area. If the nice folks at AOA could send me this in email form i might be able to convince him to move back to Albany !

Wonderful post!
I want to email this.
How can i do this?
Please email me this Mary, or Gregg.

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