If you think cracking crabs is hard work, a change of scenery's in order.
Captain Eric Slaughter and Lisa Finney have run their easygoing floating crab feasts for two years, cruising along the Potomac River to Anacostia, Alexandria, Georgetown or wherever the party wants to go.
Their Harbouritaville, a 36-foot launch docked at the Washington Marina in Southwest Washington, can handle a crowd of 20. On this particular weekday, a small group of friends have come aboard to celebrate Roger Rozelle's retirement from the Flight Safety Foundation, where he was director of publications. He and his wife Mary have lived along the District's Southwest waterfront for 20 years.
"There aren't many places you can do what we're doing tonight," Rozelle says, looking comfortable on a cushioned bench seat. "Hop on a boat, see the sights of our nation's capital, eat crabs."
Slaughter has pre-loaded the feast (from nearby Captain White's Seafood City), so the makeshift crab hammers start whacking before the Harbouritaville hums out of the channel. The crabs are heaped on the plastic-cloth-covered tables along with corn steamed in its husks, hush puppies, containers of creamy coleslaw and dipping cups for malt vinegar.
Finney is a masterful crab picker, happy to demonstrate for first-timers. This group's not quite up to the task of devouring the bushel of 10 to 12 dozen hot seasoned crabs, which are by all reckoning unusually big ones from the Chesapeake Bay.
The food lasts the usual length of the cruise, which is two or three hours, Finney says. The boat rents for $300 per hour, and the crab feast costs about $150 (a special rate for the charter). Considering the current going rates of steamed crabs by the bushel in Washington restaurants ($150 to $200 for eight dozen), the Harbouritaville's per-person cost of $60, tip included, for a party of 20, seems like a bargain.
Between the heat and the spice, the boat's coolers with sodas, juice and water are dipped in and out of liberally. Guests are welcome to bring coolers filled with their own brands of ice-cold beverages. A tall plastic bucket with soapy water and towels for taking care of crab-picking hands stands at the ready.
Once the Harbouritaville has passed the marker near Hains Point where it can pick up speed, blessed breezes kick in. If the crowd's up for it, the engaging and affable Slaughter can summon forth pertinent Washington waterfront history and call on his marine biology graduate degree to explain the flora and fauna at hand.
All too quickly, the boat docks by the parking lot and the party's over. "Let's face it," says guest of honor Rozelle. "It's a hell of a good time."
Harbouritaville crab feast charters can be booked from now through the end of October (weather permitting) seven days a week, through Capital Yacht Charters, 1300 Maine Ave. SW; call 202-554-0677 or go to www.capitalyacht.com. Reservations required. Free parking is available.
-- Bonnie S. Benwick