Thursday, July 15, 2010

Found At Sea

RIP Captain Phil.

That would be Captain Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie, star of Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch," who passed away during filming earlier this year.

I've been hooked(pun intended) on "Catch" for a few years now, my one dose of reality TV.

The formula is simple enough. A group of crab fishing boats head out in the Bering Sea (between Alaska and Russia) with cameras aboard. While they "compete" to see who has the most crab at the end, ultimately it's about their individual haul, a year's pay condensed into a few months.

The show opens with close ups each captain in front of his crew as Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" blares in the background. At one point Captain Sig Hansen is shown thrusting his arm forward as if to signal a "first down." The faces are worn as an old tire, but the rush is on.

The ship's men are classic "bad boys," hard driving cowboys willing to risk their lives in one of the most dangerous jobs on earth.

And the danger is ever present. They work 18 hours at a time some 300 miles from shore. As they fight the raging waves, snow, rain and sleet, the crew offloads over 100 crab "pots" into the sea, each weighing about 800 pounds. Go overboard or get struck with a pot and your're toast.

They don't gather for yoga in the morning, and the work hardly lends itself to a spread in Men's Health or GQ. The captains in particular are overcaffinated, chain smoking and sedentary. Captain Phil suffered a massive stroke followed by a fatal embolism. His two sons are part of his crew, and one struggles with an addiction to pain killers.

So why watch? The show is pure testosterone, and there is a certain honor with each of the crews, many of which are second and third generation.

But there's no free ride. A rookie on the boat, called a greenhorn, goes through a stiff test in order to move up to deckhand. Some might call it hazing. With no HR department the vets have free reign.

I'm hooked, because it's my ultimate fantasy. When I was a kid we used to vacation in Wisconsin and had a neighbor (in the proverbial "house on the hill") who was a commercial fisherman. Paid to fish. Cool.

Not quite my career choice. I suppose someone could run up to my desk and douse me repeatedly, and I do recall a female co-worker many years ago with a mouth that would make a longshoreman blush, but that's as close as I get to life on the Bering Sea. A man can dream, can't he?

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