Monday, April 28, 2008

It's a Numbers Game

The crab fleet is hard at work and so far, it's not going too well, at least for Captain Phil. Cornelia M's caught fewer crab than Captain Phil's drunk Red Bulls. (Phil drank 56 Red Bulls in 5 days.)

It's okay, though! "It's a numbers game." Nobody says that when things are going well.

"How'd your job interview go?"
"Great! I got the job, and more money than I asked for."
"Well, you know - it's a numbers game."

"So Ish, you have a date for the prom?"
"Yeah, actually I have a date with twin bikini models. Who are also neurosurgeons."
"Well, don't worry - it's a numbers game."

This is the point in the season when Things Get Serious. The crews are working their asses off. The greenhorns are starting to realize that this crab fishing is some hard-ass work, not some well-paying Outward Bound adventure. The captains are getting very uptight, because this is when they need to catch crab. No crab, no money. This is also when the deck bosses shine.

See, the captains are being hard-asses - especially Sig. Sig's driving the crew hard, all night and all day. He needs to keep track of the numbers of crab, and the crew is messing up the count. So Sig is NOT happy. The crew is near exhaustion, and Sig is acting like a 4 year-old who just had his juice box taken away. Enter deck boss Edgar Hansen.

Here's why I love Edgar Hansen. These guys are working 24 hours straight, risking life and limb, trying to make a bunch of money in a few months. If they don't find crab, they don't have money to put food on their families. Thus, tension. Tempers can run high. Captains can lose their shit.

In the midst of all this, Edgar Hansen sees the image of Jesus in the rust on a winch on the Northwestern's deck.

Northwestern Deck Boss Edgar Hansen

The Greenhorns on the Wizard are getting tested - one is making it (Lynn), one isn't (Moi). Moi
's a little older, probably a little too experienced in life to be a humble hand on a crab boat. He knows that compared to any other job, this job is H-A-R-D. Moi wants to do well (bless his heart), but he may not be ready for life on a crab boat. (Probably should have been tipped off when he negotiated the title of "Vice President of Chum.")

Another way the crab crews relieve tension? The pranks. World-class pranks.

Captain Johnathan had said he wanted a new truck, so the nice fellas on the Cornelia M. help Johnathan out - they put a rusted truck body on his boat.

Time Bandit returns the favor by attaching it to one of Phil's buoys - he gets a surprise trying to pull up that pot. Captain Phil is suitably impressed; game recognizes game. Phil dumps the car in the Bering Sea. (ERA on line 1 for you, Phil.)

Of course, you're not gonna catch a pickup truck on every trip. But hey! Don't worry - it's a numbers game.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Deadliest Catch Season 4 Episode 1

The show opens cold, and they get right back into it – boom, rogue wave hits the Wizard, puts a hole in the hull, and they’ve got gear rolling around topside.

(And I get right back into it, using expressions like “gear rolling around topside” like I know what I’m talking about.)

And then they hit me with that opening lick from Bon Jovi’s “Wanted: Dead or Alive.” Aw, yeah. It’s on.

Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch is back, baby! And I know I’ve been jonesing for a while now. I can tell, because it’s not normal for a guy who works in an office in San Francisco to look out the window and think: “I wonder how Opilio crab season is going.”

Fishing for crab is incredibly hard work, and seriously dangerous - last year, a boat sank, and with heavy equipment swinging around on a pitching, slippery deck, a lethal injury is a constant possibility. But when the crews hit it big, when they are "on the crab," it's also rewarding and lucrative. The crew members can make up to $40,000-$50,000 for a few weeks' work. But what work it is.

Most of the same crews are back from last season:

Cornelia Marie, with Captain Phil.

“Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up…everything.”
Bonus Trivia: Lives on Marlboros and Red Bull.

Northwestern, with Captain Sig Hanson.

Or as my friend Em calls him, "Captain Sig Handsome (wink)!”
Bonus Trivia: Sig and Edgar were on Martha Stewart earlier this week, and apparently helped design a crab fishing game for XBox 360. (Both true.)

Time Bandit, Captains Johnathan and Andy Hillstrand.

Johnathan looks like a roadie for Molly Hatchet.
Bonus Trivia: Andy has a horse farm in Indiana. My girlfriend thinks Andy’s hot.

Wizard, with Captain Keith Colbrun.

Might actually be retired baseball star Wade Boggs, I'm not sure...
Bonus Trivia: Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005.

There are a lot of family ties in the crab fleet. Every boat has either brothers, or fathers and sons. Two boats, Northwestern and Time Bandit, have 3 brothers, of which one stays in the background. On Time Bandit, Johnathan and Andy are out front, Neal’s in the background. On Northwestern, Sig is out front, Edgar is running the deck, and Norman is keeping the engines running. It’s like they each have a John, a Paul, and… a Ringo. A Groucho, and Harpo, and... a Gummo.

This season, Johnathan’s 25 year-old son Scotty is on the Time Bandit, joining the ranks of the second-generation, along with Captain Phil’s sons Jake and Josh.

(So, okay, I thought Johnathan was about 40. A weathered 40. He has a 25 year-old son? And why does he look more like Andy than Johnathan, hmm?)

What does Phil do in the off-season to stay in such terrible shape? smoke, drink, anything else? He looks like he’s been on a losing streak at a third-rate card club with no sleep for about six months.

Phil’s sons are apparently actively trying to kill the old man. For the second year in a row, they went nuts in town with Dad’s credit card. This time, Jake bought a $800 plasma TV for the boat.

The captains gather at the local watering hole for a final drink and to place the traditional wager - winner is the captain who hauls the best string of pots. They toast with a drink of Crown Royal, Bailey's and Kahlua - called a "duck fart." It's a little priceless to hear Mike Rowe, the narrator/host of the show and Ford pitchman, say "they sealed the bet with a round of duck farts."

The crews take care of all the last minute business before they set out. Northwestern is having some engine problems, which they get fixed by a guy who looks like Pete Seeger. (A lotta guys in Alaska are sporting that look, based on the show.)

Johnathan and Andy do their ritual pre-trip call home, and during the call, their mom predicts tragedy. Nice.

"Have a good trip! But someone's gonna die." Thanks, mom. Glad we called.

"Andy's hot," says my girlfriend. Okay, I get it.

And then, they're off to the fishing grounds to set the pots, and haul... wait for it... The Deadliest Catch!

Captain Keith on the Wizard is a little superstitious. En route, he sees whales - good omen. Also, he needs to have a Cup-o-noodles in the wheelhouse before he'll set gear. (I should do that before I start a new spreadsheet or powerpoint presentation.) Uh-oh, crisis: no Cup-o-noodles on board. (And of course I thought: "Just like Mrs. Hillstrand prophesied.") They set pots anyway, despite Keith's misgivings.

First pots for Cornelia M. - ooh, ouch. Nada. Second string? not much better. Not a good start.