By Cynthia A Kane
Tastes like chicken.
No matter. These Arctic rock stars are coming for the fight, not the bite.
Famous crabbers from “Deadliest Catch,” accustomed to frigid air, deadly work, icy decks and stacked stakes, will visit Sarasota next month to hunt some gator and help some children.
Used to the succulent sweetness of fresh Alaskan king crab, among other chilly aquatic delights, they are less interested in how alligator tastes than in hunting a deadly catch of another sort.
From the busy docks of Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Alaska, hail the Time Bandit fishing vessel’s captains Johnathan and Andy Hillstrand, the Sea Star’s Capt. Larry Hendricks and the Wizard’s Capt. Keith Colburn. The four — familiar faces to viewers of “Deadliest Catch” (Discovery Channel) — will fly 12 hours on their own dime to the beastly humidity of Florida.
Billed as the “Bad Boys of the Bering Sea” by event sponsors William Davis and Eric Donaldson, the skippers will make appearances to help at-risk children who need early education, developmental services and therapy. Davis owns Barnacle Bill’s Seafood Restaurant and Market, and Donaldson is a partner in The Crab Broker.
These characters are larger than life, as smooth as calluses.
It’s tough, wet, chilly, hazardous work off the Alaskan Coast, as seen on the Emmy-nominated show.
That’s something even local families know all too well. In a tragic run while fishing — not for crab but for salmon — on his annual summer job in the same waters, longtime Port Charlotte commercial fisherman Jeffrey Steele died at age 60 this month, lost from the 32-foot Nezzen in Ugashik Bay near Pilot Point, Alaska.
Andy Hillstrand, who has horses and a 70-acre farm in Chandler, Ind., has fished crab in the treacherous Bering Sea his whole life, captaining the custom-built family vessel.
His brother Johnathan shares skippering duties — the latter taking the helm in king crab season, the former during opilio crab season.
Viewers will recognize Hendricks as the skipper of a 1969 94-foot-long vessel built for the Bering Sea crab fishery at the Marco Shipyard in Seattle. The ship finished hauling its last three pots 15 minutes before that crab season ended on the TV series’ first run. The Sea Star was retired from the crab fishery after crab rationalization in 2005.
“I’m taking them gator hunting on an airboat, and pig hunting with a swamp buggy.”
The fundraising plan was cooked up after Davis learned of the gator-hunting sojourn. He told Donaldson they should do something more with the fortuitous visit.
The men will visit the Florida Center for Child and Family Development in Sarasota, a community-based agency providing early childhood education, developmental and therapeutic services and programs to more than 550 families.
Public appearances will include a fundraising autograph session and a private limited-seating king crab feast and auction. Items to be auctioned include a case of fresh Dutch Harbor crab (in season), a life ring from one of the Dutch Harbor ships, dinners at Barnacle Bill’s and a slot on Donaldson’s annual “sea to plate” tour to see the vessels firsthand in Dutch Harbor, including a day on one of the vessels.
Donaldson said folks often note the high dollars the men earn for several days’ work during the fleeting crab seasons.
But, “they’re not rich. They’re hardworking guys and they do what they do because they love it,” he said. “Johnathan (Hillstrand) will tell you, ‘I just cannot be on land too long.'”
‘Off the hook’
Donaldson expects the drinks will be flowing the evening of the auction.
“That’s gonna be off the hook,” he said. “They all have their poison of choice.”
Indeed, the Duck Farts will pour (it’s an Alaskan favorite of one of the captains: equal parts Kahlua, Bailey’s Irish Cream and Crown Royal, and in that order).
“They work hard, and they play even harder,” Davis said.
Despite their popularity, “they haven’t taken on the air of being stars,” Davis noted.
“Sarasota should feel somewhat privileged that four of them are coming,” Donaldson said.
Captains from the Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” series will sign autographs from 1 to 3 p.m. Aug. 26 at Barnacle Bill’s Seafood Restaurant, 1526 Main St., Sarasota.At 4:30 p.m. Aug. 26, there will be a private, limited-seating dinner. Cost is $75 for the charitable dinner and auction. For location of the dinner, or information on all events, call 365-6800 or 355-7700.