By David Strege
They call themselves normal working guys. Yet, they are more than just your average commercial fishermen.
Oh sure, they toil each winter trying to catch their quota of crab, but as they do their job on the deadly Bering Sea off Alaska, they do so in the limelight.
These crab fishermen are stars, TV stars — or at least those who are chosen to have a two-man camera crew follow them around for two months or so each winter.
They are the men of the Deadliest Catch, a popular series on Discovery Channel that documents life on commercial crab boats such as the Northwestern, Cornelia Marie, Maverick and Time Bandit.
First there was a documentary called The World’s Deadliest Job, followed by a three-part series called America’s Deadliest Season.
That led to the Deadliest Catch, which premiered in April 2005 and has since become a huge hit.
Cornelia Marie captain Phil Harris, 50, who lives in Seattle, said he can’t go to the grocery store like he used to without people approaching him.
In the Phoenix airport recently, Harris was mobbed by about 50 people.
“Believe it or not, and I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but I almost felt like I was one of the Beatles,” he said.
Larry Hendricks, 53, was the captain of the Sea Star in the pilot and first season of Deadliest Catch. He gave up fishing and became a consultant for the past two years for Original Productions, which produces the show.
“People look at you as a demigod,” he said. “We’re just normal working men, but we’re looked upon maybe as rock stars. We’re astounded about this whole deal.”
The star treatment continues for Harris and Hendricks next week when they appear at the San Diego Yacht and Boat Show.
“Somebody told me we were the most-watched show in the world and from what I understand, I’m more popular in Bangkok and some of these other countries than I am here,” Harris said.
The reason? People are intrigued by the world’s most dangerous job.
The pilot episode said the injury rate on most crab boats in the fleet is nearly 100 percent because of the severe weather conditions, and that the Alaskan king crab fishery reported over 300 fatalities per 100,000 workers as of 2005.
“That’s the deal with crabbing,” Harris said. “Every day you’re going to encounter something where somebody almost gets smashed (or) thrown over the side.
“The stories you hear, you think, `Well, maybe they’re exaggerating.’ It isn’t an exaggeration. These guys are the toughest guys there are.”
Harris talked about a crewman who used duct tape to tape two broken fingers together to continue working.
During the Deadliest Season in 2004, a close friend of Hendricks was lost overboard on a different boat. He still gets choked up talking about it.
“The crew called him an old man and he went out to work the rail to show those young bucks what’s going on and he got tangled in his line and went over the side and lost his life,” Hendricks said.
In 2005, a boat rolled over and five of the six crewmen were lost. Harris was nearby and searched for bodies for 12 hours. His reaction was filmed later at Dutch Harbor.
“Nothing on these shows is scripted whatsoever,” Harris said. “What you see is what you get no matter what.”
It is a reality show in every sense.
Note:The San Diego Yacht and Boat Show at the Sheraton Hotel and Marina on Harbor Island, San Diego is Thursday and Friday, noon to 8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Harris and Hendricks will appear daily from noon to 5 p.m. at the Boat Trader booth. Admission is $10. Kids 12 and under are free. For more details, visit http://www.socalboatshows.com.