By Don Douloff, July 17, 2008
For a palate-pleasing treat, it’s hard to top sweet, succulent Dungeness crab, especially when it’s fresh out of the water. With that in mind, and taking the Do-It-Yourself ethos to new levels, Hastings House hotel, on Salt Spring Island, B.C., offers a unique excursion that allows guests to catch their own crab with the help of an experienced fisherman – and a few strategically-placed traps.
Available Thursday to Monday, May 1 to Sept. 30, the two-night Crab Catch Package includes an afternoon outing with Salt Spring Island fisherman Gary Le Marchant on a 24-ft. crabbing boat. Guest are outfitted with rain slickers, issued a crab-fishing license (allowing a two-per-person limit) and then head out to try their luck with the crafty crustaceans.
Le Marchant, who’s been fishing Salt Spring Island’s Dungeness crab since the 1970s, provides an onboard, hands-on crab workshop – how to tell male from female; which ones to cook; how to pick them up safely; and, back on the dock, how to clean them. His boat takes eight to nine guests and, to accommodate groups, could make several excursions. Alternatively, two fishing boats can be added to the ‘fleet,’ to host up to 25 at one time.
After returning to shore, guests take their hard-won catch back to Hastings House, along with a recipe book full of crab dishes and a tool for measuring crab size, to take home. Next night, Hastings House executive chef Marcel Kauer demonstrates how to cook and dress the shellfish and then celebrates the catch by preparing a four-course, crab-themed dinner.
An 11th-century-Sussex-syle manor house nestled in 22 wooded acres overlooking Ganges Harbour, Hastings House features 18 rooms that can accommodate 36, double-occupancy (or 18 single guests). Some suites have separate bedrooms, which would increase the capacity for a larger group, where sharing a suite is feasible. In addition, there’s three-bedroom Churchill Cottage, which accommodates five.
Since last year, Kauer has been buying Le Marchant’s crab and serving it in the hotel’s restaurant. At about the same time, Bonny O’Connor, owner of Hastings House, came up with the idea of taking guests on their own crab-catching excursion. “It took a few more brainstorming sessions at the pub with Gary and Lesley [Cheeseman, Salt Spring Marina’s general manager] to refine the idea,” remembers O’Connor, who, along with Jerry Parks, bought the hotel in 1995 and the marina in 2005.
“We have never had a guest come home without their two crabs,” says Cheeseman.