Most years, the crab-fishing fleet from Discovery’s Tuesday-night reality hit “Deadliest Catch” is back from the Bering Sea before the show premieres in April, but not this year.
(Photo at top: Deckhand Mike Fourtner on the ice-crusted F/V Time Bandit)
Speaking just before Memorial Day weekend, F/V Wizard Capt. Keith Colburn tells Zap2it, “Three days ago, my boat left Seattle to go fish snow crab, opilio crab. They extended the season from the middle of May until the middle of June. So many boats are struggling to catch their crab.
“I’ve gotten so many calls, guys saying, ‘Help, help.’ For the first time in over 30 years, the Wizard actually came south and is going north again to catch crab. I called the processor, the guy I talked to, I said, ‘I’m going out. I’m going out.’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, sure you are.’ I go, ‘No, I’m dead serious.’ He’s like, ‘No way, I’m so stoked!'”
Asked how the season went, Colburn says, “We had not a good season, not a monumental season, but an epic season, in one of the worst years, or the worst year that we’ve ever faced. There’s no question this is the worst year we ever had, not on TV, not on ‘Deadliest Catch.’ I’ve been doing this 27 years; we’ve never seen anything like this.”
For the crab fleet, it all came down to one word — “ice.”
“I’ve seen snippets of this,” says Colburn, “working 150 miles north of the rest of the fleet, working in the ice, but nobody’s ever seen anything like this. If you think the show has been good or intense or amazing to this point, it’s like, you know what, it’s that rollercoaster ride where you go up and down a couple of times, and then all of a sudden you start climbing and climbing and climbing, and you know that you’re ready for a big f***ing drop.
“Get ready, because the big drop’s coming. That’s exactly where the season was. It was wicked. We almost lost boats. The Wizard’s a big, sturdy, really amazing boat. It wasn’t built for crab fishing. It was built to military specs in 1945, which is way tougher and way stouter than anything built in the last 50 years.
“I was sitting on the edge of my captain’s chair many times, too many times this year, wondering, ‘Did I go too far? Did I press too far? Have I crossed the line?'”
If viewers thought the Bering Sea hurricane waves and winds they’ve already seen on the show are scary, Colburn says they haven’t seen anything yet.
“Big waves are one thing,” he says. “Big waves are scary; big waves are intimidating. They could potentially break boats. Think about it, at the end of the day, the biggest, baddest boat ever built on the planet didn’t even make it across the Atlantic Ocean because it hit ice. The Titanic sunk because it hit ice, and it is 100 times bigger than any boat in the Bering Sea.
“We were battling that stuff, not for a day, not for a month, for three-and-half months straight. It got to the point where, I’m telling you, if [the filmmakers] didn’t catch it, and they couldn’t film it, and they couldn’t get it, they should all be fired.”
Sometimes, says Colburn, it wasn’t even possible to go forward.
“The ice was crunching, cracking, moving, sliding off the bow. This is a 155-foot boat, and we are just grinding our way through the ice. Two hours later, I looked at my trackline — I’d gone backwards a half-mile, thinking I’d gone forwards.
“It was that bad.”
For F/V Time Bandit Johnathan Hillstrand, speaking over breakfast in Los Angeles at the beginning of May, his return from the Bering Sea was cause for celebration.
“I was so happy,” he says, “I would have kissed my ex-wife’s lawyer. I was so happy to be back in town. And my ex-wife, I would have kissed them both.”
Here’s a clip from tonight’s (Tuesday, June 5) episode: