'Deadliest Catch': Sig Hansen Remembers Phil Harris & Previews the New Season

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Here's the full text of my syndicated feature story on the return of one of my favorite shows ...

Deadliest_Catch_Jake_Phil_Josh_Harris.jpgIf you're an ardent fan of Discovery Channel's crab-fishing reality series "Deadliest Catch," then you know the fleet has lost a captain, not to the merciless waters of the Bering Sea but to the ravages of ill health.

 

On Jan. 29, 53-year-old Capt. Phil Harris (center, above) of the F/V Cornelia Marie suffered a stroke while offloading crab and had to be helicoptered to a hospital in Anchorage , Alaska .

 

His twentysomething sons, Josh (right) and Jake (left), were at his side, and while he appeared to rally briefly, he died on Feb. 9. Fans had been worried about Harris' health for a while, after a blood clot sent him to the hospital during the fishing season in 2008.

 

In the world of Alaskan crab fishing, king crab are harvested in the late fall, and opilio crab, right after the beginning of the year. So Harris had already participated in the bulk of the 2009-2010 season.

 

Therefore, when the sixth season of "Deadliest Catch" launches on Tuesday, April 13, Harris will be there, and he will continue to be there until sometime around or after episode 13, when the show deals with his health crisis and death (exact details of that are pending).

 

According to a March 12 post at the Cornelia Marie website, the boat - co-owned by Harris and its namesake, Cornelia Marie Devlin - has been undergoing repairs, and the entire crew has been out of work since Harris' memorial on Feb. 21.

 

But the crew is heading back to Alaska to fish the remainder of the boat's quota, but without the Harris sons, who have left the deck to deal with grief and family business.

 

On hand to help them is Capt. Sig Hansen (below) of the F/V Northwestern (bottom photo). Harris' longtime friendCaptain_Sig_Hansen_Deadliest_Catch_1.jpg and fellow crab fisherman.

 

Over breakfast in Los Angeles in February, Hansen discusses how he felt when Harris returned to fishing after the first health scare.

 

"I was amazed that he made it back, number one," he says. "I was relieved. It was a roller-coaster ride for everybody that knew him, so the fact that he made it back was impressive. But he's a tough old bird.

 

"He's one of those old codgers that you'd figure would never die. Then, all of a sudden, you hear that he had this stroke, and you figured, well, here we go again."

 

Hansen says he heard the news over the radio, the chief way that fishing captains keep each other updated.

 

"The next thing you hear," he says, "is that he's doing better. So you feel relieved about that, and the roller-coaster ride goes up and down, and the next thing you know, he's gone."

 

Harris was known as a man who liked cigarettes, alcohol and a nice piece of beef. While the blood clot slowed him down, he didn't exactly become a health nut.

 

"When Phil started as a kid in the '70s," Hansen says, "that was the environment. You smoked; you drank; you worked hard; you played hard.

 

"His ex-wife said the most touching thing at the ceremony. She said he swept her off her feet. She's talking about how this guy comes in, he's gone for a long time, made some money then the sky's the limit. 'Where do you want to go?'

 

"I thought that was nice and neat the way she did it, because it's true for all the guys. You go to work, do your thing, come home, and you go nuts. They're not a bunch of angels up there."


But Harris was also known for his generous spirit and big heart, and Hansen has taken an interest in the future of his sons, especially the youngest, Jake.

 

"Now that Phil's gone," he says, "it's not my responsibility, but I certainly would like to help him in whatever direction he chooses.

 

Deadliest_Catch_Northwestern_King_Crab.jpg"That's how close this thing has become. So it's far beyond this whole TV land. It's the real deal."


Hansen doesn't know if either son wants to go back to sea, but he thinks Jake has the makings of a fisherman.

 

"Oh, yeah," he says. "You don't have to be a big guy; you've just got to have a drive. Now that their dad is gone, they certainly have something to prove. They have a father to live up to. Forget the public and what they think of Phil, in our Dutch Harbor community, among the other captains, Phil was still respected that way. That's what they've got to live up to."

 

And if the producers and the Harris boys choose to show footage of Harris' last days, Hansen says, "Number one, it's a tribute to Phil. It shows how he lived and how he ended, and that's what people want to know.

 

"It's a good thing. It's his legacy, and it will live on through that. It's fine."

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