These crustacean-chasers are among the most macho heroes on television
WHEN you contemplate the firmament of TV stars, your first thoughts don’t fall on macho fishermen who fight the elements eight months of the year to find Alaska’s king crab.
But Sig Hansen finds himself in that rarefied company.
Hansen is captain of the Northwestern, one of the crab boats featured on the Discovery Channel’s hit series Deadliest Catch.
He has been skippering for 18 years and, with brothers Edgar and Norman, he challenges the sea the way his Norwegian father, grandfather and great-grandfather did.
‘‘The first couple of years I hated it, but it grows on you,’’ Edgar says.
‘‘You don’t like it instantly, it takes a while, just like mould. It’s addictive. It’s a different world when you’re out there in the middle of nowhere, something about it keeps drawing me back.’’
Sig Hansen likes to keep the same crew, not only for crab fishing. He also runs salmon charters and fishes for cod.
‘‘We have the same people coming back and we do pay them a little more. On our boat we have a lot of family on there. It’s usually someone you know, it’s nice to hire someone you know is going to stick around for a while,’’ he says.
‘‘Back in the ’70s and early ’80s there was a lot of alcohol and drug abuse on the boats. Nowadays we’re much more regulated.
‘‘So the guys, if they want to do their drinking, do it in town. But on the boat, no. It’s like an honourable thing, you don’t do that. Nowadays we have to take urine samples if there’s an injury.’’
Each trip can range from two days to three weeks, depending how long it takes to corral the crab, and while they use an electronic plotter and a GPS, finding the crustaceans still depends on the captain’s instincts.
There are four men on deck at all times and one in the bunk, and they sleep and eat in rotation.
‘‘Guys like a steak when they can get it. They may have their dinner at 7am,’’ Sig Hansen says.
Hansen spends between $5000 and $10,000 on dry goods every season, meals are rushed and the most common fare is peanut butter sandwiches.
‘‘We’ll have a four-day runout, I’ll stay awake for two days, take a little four-hour nap or something — stay awake for one more day and the guys will run the boat in,’’ Hansen says of the routine.
‘‘The guys are doing 16-hour shifts, four hours in the bunk. They rotate like that. It’s a machine which never stops.’’
The most deadly of all his deadliest catches occurred when he was a new captain.
‘‘She almost sank because I iced her up so bad,’’ he says of his boat.
‘‘It was my fault. It’s so cold as the boat’s driving into the wave, everything’s in the air and coming on deck. It’s freezing instantly and you have to keep up with that. The guys have to go out with sledgehammers and bats and break the ice off.
‘‘I was like 28 at the time. We were fishing and I didn’t want to stop and didn’t realise how much
Pitch and toss: (above) the crews featured in Deadliest Catch brave the elements to find the ocean’s precious bounty. At the helm: (top right) fourthgeneration fisherman Sig Hansen fought the pull of the sea but it won. Claws out: (left) crew members Jake Harris and Dave Millman sort crabs on the deck of the Northwestern.