Discovery: Welcome this week’s Deadliest Catch chat. Our guest is Keith Colburn, captain of the Wizard, one of the newest boats to join Deadliest Catch. Ask Keith all about his career as a captain and life aboard the Wizard.
Keith Colburn: Thank you for joining me tonight. I look forward to answering your questions. I’m Keith Colburn, captain of the Wizard.
Moonlighter: Good Evening Captain, when does crab season start and end?
Keith Colburn: Officially, the king crab and snow crab fisheries start October 15 of every year. King crab ends January 15, snow crab ends May 15. The market demand is what has us fish at this time of the year, king crab in the fall and snow crab in the winter months.
Toothy1: Hi Captain Keith. It looks like you have the biggest one in the fleet. Is that right?
Keith Colburn: It’s large, but it’s not the largest. There are crab vessels that are 165 feet, but what is unique to the Wizard is her capacity. She holds over 400,000 pounds of crab in her tank. There are larger boats that hold more pots, but I believe the Wizard holds the most crab in the fleet.
Toothy1: Snr. Nocho Keith. Where did you learn first aid? Did you save his finger?
Keith Colburn: I’m a licensed captain, and some of the requirements in your licensing are first aid training. I’ve been through numerous first aid and CPR classes. As far as the finger, Lenny is okay and still working on the boat. You’ll have to follow the show to see what happens.
Toothy1: Are you the only captain that doesn’t chain smoke?
Keith Colburn: To the best of my knowledge, but I do have a bad habit: I chew tobacco.
AlexMeghXan: What is the hardest thing about being a Captain?
Keith Colburn: I would say staying focused. Trying to remain focused on the crabs, the crew, the weather, your offload dates, and a multitude of other things at the same time can create confusion. Being focused at all times is probably the most important thing and the most difficult thing about being a captain.
Sohmakun: How many days/weeks are you out at sea?
Keith Colburn: However long it takes to put 400,000 pounds of crab in the boat. Sometimes that can be five days on great fishing. It can take as long as three weeks. Many times our offloads are to floating processors so we never touch land. Sometimes we may go one to two months without actually touching land.
Mike S: Hey Keith, is it different for you not only running the Wizard now but also owning it?
Keith Colburn: Definitely. There are a lot of demands and jobs associated with both owning and being the captain of a vessel. Trying to balance both is a serious chore. With our new crab program, it’s much worse than it was in the past for owner-operators.
SF Scrapper: What type of engines are in your boat, what size wheel and how much power?
Keith Colburn: Our main engine is a CAT 399. It has 1200 horsepower. The wheel is approximately 6 feet in diameter. We have four generators, R3306 Caterpillars, two of which are our main power supplies. They generate 175 kilowatts, which is probably enough power to light up your entire block.
Drinkr23: Iis there a web page that honors boats and fisherman who have died at sea?
Keith Colburn: Yes, there is. Many of the harbors and towns associated with fishing have memorials. The one in Seattle is the Seattle Fishermen’s Memorial. The Seattle Fishermen’s Memorial has scholarship programs for children of fishermen lost at sea. It is a great charity and I strongly encourage anyone to log on to their site.
AlexMeghXan: Now that you’ve been on TV, do you ever encounter people out in public who recognize you? Have you signed any autographs?
Keith Colburn: ::chuckles:: Yes, I have signed an autograph or two. As of yet, other than my little league baseball team, I’m still anonymous.
Rigaleto: What did you think when you saw your deckhand’s finger was injured?
Keith Colburn: Lenny’s injury was much worse than what was shown in the episode. The entire end of the finger was completely open with bone and tendons showing. It was a miracle it was not completely crushed or smashed. The first thought in my mind was, “We’re going to have to take him in or the finger will be lost. And even then, it might still be lost.”
EMT: Is your crew covered by healthcare? How do you handle such injuries?
Keith Colburn: The responsibility and burden lies on the boat owner. Insurance for crab vessels is some of the highest in the world for crews of this size. We take injuries very seriously and whenever possible seek immediate medical attention. But, being isolated in the Bering Sea and Aleutian island chains, sometimes medical attention for extremely serious injuries is not available in Dutch Harbor or the Bering Sea. These types of injuries need to be medivacked out immediately to Anchorage. Sometimes weather conditions will prohibit medivac to Anchorage, and because of this it makes the Bering Sea that much more dangerous.
Rodrigo: I read that your boat is a WWII ship. How did you convert it into a crab boat?
Keith Colburn: This is a great question. The Wizard is originally a WWII ship, a yard oiler. You can find out all about the history of the Wizard on my website, www.crabwizard.com.
Ftenelson: Captain, what’s the most dangerous situation that has ever happened to you on a crab boat?
Keith Colburn: There’s a lot. The worst wave I ever saw was probably only a 30 footer, maybe 35 feet. But at the time, it sprung up in front of the boat and curled right over the top of the sodium lights on the bow, which are 25 to 35 feet off deck. It took 20 crab pots stacked forward and much of the deck’s equipment and threw it all onto the back deck. The water on board after the wave had passed was at least 6 to 7 feet deep. When I looked down, the entire boat, except for the bow, was under water. I immediately threw throttles into full ahead and prayed. And the Wizard , being the tough old gal that she is, slowly dispersed the water and went right back up with decks clear.
Maryfargo: Besides the Bering Sea, where are some of the other places you’ve fished?
Keith Colburn: That’s it. I’ve fished in Alaska waters and only in Alaskan waters commercially.
Toddlisle: Do you have another occupation during off-season?
Keith Colburn: No, being the captain and owner of the boat the Wizard is a full-time, year-round job. Although the boats only work 7 months a year, the remaining 5 months are dedicated to shipyard work and administrative work. I’m also very active in the politics surrounding the Bering Sea crab fisheries.
Shoop04: What is the best prank you have seen on the sea?
Keith Colburn: There’s a lot of good ones. The best prank I’ve played recently is convincing a greenhorn that we needed to adjust the radar, and dressing him up entirely in aluminum foil and having him jump up and down from the forward part of the crab pots back. This was actually done on another television show that the Wizard participated in for a British film crew.
Skarz: How long has your crew been working with you?
Keith Colburn: My brother Monte and I have worked together off and on for twenty years. Soper, my mate, has been with me twenty years. The remainder of my crew has been with me just in the last one to two years.
Drinkr23: Do you miss the Derby or do you like the way it is now?
Keith Colburn: I miss the Derby. I miss the Derby big time. The crab fishery has changed in the last two years. The Derby was a wide open, best boat wins, every man for himself. The new fishery has a whole new set of struggles that we go through that make it just as intense as the old fishery, only different.
Whiyelion: What was the longest you stayed out?
Keith Colburn: If you mean the longest I have been away from home, 11 months. The longest I’ve been out on the water without delivering back to town, 1 month.
Miginator9: Do you have much contact with any of the other captains?
Keith Colburn: Yes, absolutely. Modern technology has changed the way we work with radars, plotters and especially now communications. We literally have real-time communication on the ground at all times. It’s easy to get distracted and chase radio crabs. A radio crab is that elusive crab that doesn’t exist but your partner or enemy is trying to set you on.
Darceelou: Hello Keith, when you are all playing jokes on each other, does anyone ever take it seriously and get mad?
Keith Colburn: Absolutely, yes. I do not like people hauling my crab pots. Whenever crab pots get hauled by somebody else, many times they will set it in the wrong position and it may be tangled with one of my own pots or somebody else’s pots, or it may be out of line. We set strings of pots in a line for a reason. Many times, weather plays a big factor in how we set our strings of crab pots. When I come back to my pots, if one is out of line and the weather is bad I may have to make adjustments to haul that pot, which could potentially put my crew in jeopardy with waves coming over the sides of the boat. The Wizard , although very large, also has a downside – all four tanks are always full, it rides low to the water, and is very susceptible to taking waves. If my crew is busy untangling a prank and the weather is poor, this could potentially put them in jeopardy.
Black duck: What is the speed of your boat? And how fast are y’all pulling and setting pots?
Keith Colburn: The boat travels at 10 knots, which is approximately 11 mph. We haul pots at about 4 mph. This sounds really slow, but with everything involved there’s always a ton of activity going on in trying to get pots back, pots baited, the crab sorted, and throwing the hook at the next pot. We can haul as many as 20 pots per hour, or better.
Dpinkys7465: Has global warming hurt the crop of crab, or would it in any way?
Keith Colburn: Absolutely. Water temperatures play a huge part in the life cycles of crab, predators of crab, and everything in the Bering Sea. But so far the climate change has only made the Bering Sea more unpredictable. In the last ten years we’ve had extremes in climate — very cold or very mild. Also, global warming has created larger and more intense storms that track up the Aleutian chain from Japan, making weather conditions more unpredictable and more severe, in my opinion. I believe in global warming.
Ftenelson: Captain Keith what do you think about Blake, and what happened with him and the Cornelia Marie? Also you captains and crews are braver men than I’ll ever be or could be.
Keith Colburn: Blake is young and green, but possesses the ego and arrogance to be a crab captain. He’s succeeding at this time using radio, but at some point if he wants to truly be a great captain, he’s going to have to turn it off and find his own crab. What happened between the Cornelia Marie and the Maverick happens all the time with these guys that use the radio to fish. Radio fishing is something you can only do with an absolutely trusted partner. In my career, the only guy that ever made any effort to help me or repay me for helping him was my brother Monte when he had his own boat, and my current partner, Mark on the Pinnacle, and Tony LaRussa on the Fierce Allegiance — both trusted friends and partners.
Sharak68: Hi Keith. When you’re setting pots, which do you rely on more – previous hot spots and tips or your gut feeling?
Keith Colburn: A lot of everything. Crab tend to be in the same spot year in and year out, where there are favorable grounds for them to live. I also do a lot of background research before entering the season: water temperatures, the annual crab survey, and the location of crab on that survey. These also help me make my decisions. Ultimately, it’s basically by instinct.
Crabfans1234: If you weren’t a crab boat captain what do you think you would be doing for a living?
Keith Colburn: Before becoming a captain I had worked in a French restaurant and had worked my way up to assistant chef. I started in a restaurant when I was fourteen, and once I started fishing never went back. If I were to try something else, maybe cooking might not be a bad occupation, just maybe not a fast food place.
SR5401: Capt. Colburn, one more question please. Can you give some insight into why you, your crew, and the rest of the fleet choose to work in one of the most dangerous and deadliest jobs in the world? Is it money, family tradition, or something else that draws you to it?
Keith Colburn: Well, it’s not family tradition. My brother Monte and I are the first Colburns that I know of that are fishermen. Initially, when you start fishing, the money is a big part of it. Obviously, you need to have a big reward to participate in this type of work. Ultimately, I think anybody who goes to sea finds that there’s something that keeps bringing them back, keeps drawing them back to the ocean. I can’t explain it; I just know I feel comfortable there. I can’t picture myself doing anything else.
Ackmel: So how’s the food on a crab boat? I’m sure it’s a major task feeding your crew. Ever run out of food while out at sea?
Keith Colburn: Hopefully, my crew’s not listening in! During the Derby days, and even now, I’ve always maintained that sleep is the number one priority, and food is number two in order to keep the guys going. From an ex-chef, you would think I’d be more in tune to keeping the guys fed well, but a lot of times all we survive on is microwave food. There isn’t a lot of time between strings of gear the way we haul gear on the Wizard , and our two microwaves get replaced annually.
Dunno: I realize this is dangerous. But is it safer today than 15 years ago?
Keith Colburn: Every year it gets safer. Every year we learn more and more about how we’re working out there, what it takes to maintain safety on the vessel through drills, training, and a watchful eye. Electronic safety equipment and without question, the US Coast Guard’s presence has made the Bering Sea a safer place. But it’s still the Bering Sea, we’re still 200 miles offshore, and given the nature of the Bering Sea, when there’s no place to hide sometimes things just happen.
Ltlindian: On average, how much does each crab weigh?
Keith Colburn: An average snow crab weighs 1 to 1.5 pounds An average king crab weighs 6.5 to 7 pounds. King crab in the Bering Sea can get as big as 10 to 12 pounds, or better. There is a third crab that we fish called Bairdi, which is basically a giant snow crab. You have not seen this in the stores for the last ten years because the crab biomass was very low and fisheries were closed. But it has rebounded big time, and we are currently starting to fish it again. These crabs can weigh as much as 2.5 to 3.5 pounds, and many think they are the best crab in the Bering Sea.
Adam: Have you ever worked on deck, and if so do you miss it?
Keith Colburn: I worked on deck a bunch. Nobody steps into the wheelhouse in the Bering Seas crab fishery without working on deck. I started my career as a stupid greenhorn and slowly worked my way up. My web site chronicles some of it, but soon I’ll give you a real in depth idea of what it’s like to be a greenhorn on the Bering Sea. If you can make it after one year on the Bering Sea, you can make it. Most guys only make it for a trip. Some guys make it for a month. The guys that have the mental toughness to survive that first year can then work their way up from greenhorn to deck hand to deck boss to engineer to mate or relief skipper and then ultimately get their own command of a vessel. That was the route I had.
Adam: Do you keep a close relationship with crew members when you aren’t fishing?
Keith Colburn: My crew lives all over the country. There’s a fine line between being good friends and also being the one responsible and making the calls when you’re in the Bering Sea. I feel all of my crew are my friends, but once you start fishing, business and the chain of command are absolute. Away from fishing, periodically, I do hang out with my crew.
Meuniere: Which season do you like fishing most: red crab or opilio?
Keith Colburn: That’s tough, they’re different. Red crab — there’s nothing like red crab. They’re big, they’re beautiful in their own way, and the value when you pull a full pot is incredible dollar wise. They’re also a lot sneakier. One day you can be on great fishing, set your gear back in the same spot and come back with blanks. There’s an art to fishing red crab and staying in touch with the crab. Snow crab tend to be way bigger in volume and the schools of crab are much larger. But they can be interesting in their own right because at times they lay in very odd spots, deep gullies or on steep edges, and can disappear quickly as well. I think I’ve been more successful snow crab fishing, but I love them both.
Ttmagster: Did you ever lose pots under ice?
Keith Colburn: Yeah, a lot. The ice moves faster than you can ever imagine. And when you’re on great fishing, it becomes a game trying to stay on that good fishing. I’ve had entire loads of gear run over by the ice. You can retrieve it after the ice goes over it, because the ice will eventually retreat. But the mess and the amount of time lost fishing when the ice runs over your gear can wipe out your season.
Ttmagster: Would you let your wife go fishing with you?
Keith Colburn: My wife is one of the toughest, most resilient women I know. I believe she has the mental makeup to be able to work on a boat. But the answer is no.
Discovery: Captain Keith, thanks for coming by to answer everyone’s questions tonight. Is there anything you’d like to add, before our chat time is up?
Keith Colburn: My website, www.crabwizard.com, launched today. It’s still being built, and we’re still adding some really cool stuff to it. Most importantly, if you become a fan of the Wizard and follow the site you have an opportunity to win one of our Crab Wizard hats. So come join us on our website and thanks for all the great questions. I appreciate everyone following the show. To the true heroes and guys that participate in the most deadly profession, my heart and my blessings to all the boys overseas fighting for our country. Come home safe, come home soon. Root for the Wizard; we’re rooting for you.