In a normal year, by the time Discovery’s crab-fishing reality show/soap-opera-for-dudes “Deadliest Catch” hits the airwaves on Tuesday nights, the fleet is safely back in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, and the crews and captains are taking a well-earned break.
Not so this year. With halved king-crab quotas last fall and crushing ice during opilio-crab season this past winter, many boats continue to be out on the Bering Sea long into the new year.
It’s mid-April, and on the morning of the Discovery Channel upfront presentation to advertisers at UCLA on the Westside of Los Angeles, three of the crab captains have gathered for breakfast at the Luxe Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in Bel Air — Scott “Junior” Campbell of the F/V Seabrooke, Keith Colburn of the F/V Wizard and Johnathan Hillstrand of the F/V Time Bandit (from left to right in picture at bottom).
On this cool California morning, the Time Bandit is still fishing, battling ice and frigid, storm-tossed waves.
“They’re out there trying to get the boats home,” Johnathan Hillstrand tells Zap2it. “They’re stuck in the ice. It’s a bad deal, very bad.”
Although the king crab quota was slashed, the price per pound was up, so the financial hit wasn’t as bad as feared. But it was an emotional time nonetheless aboard the Time Bandit, since Hillstrand had Josh Harris (at right, above) among his crew.
Hillstrand was a close friend of Harris’ late father, F/V Cornelia Marie Capt. Phil Harris, and was with Josh and younger brother Jake (at left, above) during their father’s ultimately unsuccessful effort to recover from a massive stroke in an Anchorage hospital in January 2010.
When the brothers were financially unable to put the Cornelia Marie in the water this past fall, Josh signed on to the Time Bandit, while Jake joined the crew of the F/V Northwestern, under Capt. Sig Hansen.
“It was weird,” says Hillstrand, “because I’d forget he’s there, and then I’d go, ‘That’s Josh Harris.’ I love Josh, and he fit in. In king crab, he stayed in the bait area and wasn’t into learning everything. It’s a whole new boat.”
But Hillstrand emphasizes that, if Harris expects to follow his father into the captain’s chair, he’ll have to familiarize himself with everything that it takes to run a boat, from bow to stern.
“It’s all part of the process of being a captain,” he says. “You need to put the time in, and you need to know everything about a boat, so people will follow you. Part of being a captain is, you need to go on any boat and run that boat, start those motors and change the fuel, transfer fuel, switch it over. I could go pilot a boat anywhere in the world.
“So he’s got a long ways to go on that aspect.”
Life is challenging enough for young men who come home from the sea with fat paychecks and a lot of pent-up energy, but Colburn sees even bigger hurdles for Josh and Jake Harris, whose father was one of the most beloved figures on “Deadliest Catch.”
“The Harris boys in particular,” he says, “not only do they come home with pockets full of money, they can walk into any bar in America, and they get free drinks. Celebrity in itself is a drug, so they’re having to deal with even more than we did, when we were in our twenties.”
One deckhand that seems to have found his way is Jake Anderson (right) from the Northwestern. He’s been steadily pursuing the education necessary to get the licenses he needs to be a captain and pilot his own boat one day. Hansen has even let him take the wheel of the mighty Northwestern and steer her into Seattle’s Ballard Locks.
Anderson is also progressing in his personal life, reveals his good friend Hillstrand.
“That’s one hell of a kid,” says Hillstrand. “They don’t make them better than that one. He should be an underwear model, with those big baby blues. He’s getting married. We’re coming up and crashing the wedding. We’re all family.”
Relatives announced via Facebook that Anderson popped the question to longtime love Jenna Patterson, and she said yes.
“He’s come a long way in a short time,” says Campbell. “He really, truly wants to be in the wheelhouse.”
“He wants to be a great father and have a bunch of kids,” says Hillstrand. “Jake was drinking, and he turned all his life around. He hasn’t taken a single drink in two years, been clean and sober. The greatest kid you could ever meet, just a great person. I’m proud of him.”
Meanwhile, “Deadliest Catch” fans know that Hillstrand and Colburn have clashed in the past, even getting physical. But at dinner in Los Angeles the night before, they were all smiles.
Just before Colburn arrives for breakfast, Hillstrand sets the record straight.
“Me and Keith,” he says, “so much has happened between us … we’re not best buddies, but I can’t go through life hating people. It’s just too hard to do. So, we’re making the best of it. We were stuck together last night, and we were making the best of it.
“Life is too short. It is. You can’t go through life being a hater. It’s a lot of work.”
“it’s easier just to get along,” says Campbell.
“Six-thirty, 7 p.m. tonight,” says Hillstrand, “right in the kisser. I’m just kidding.”