By Margaret Bauman
Alaska Journal of Commerce
David Lethin, one of the famed “The Deadliest Catch” crab boat captains, has transformed the Aleutian Ballad into a tour boat. Lethin spent $2.5 million to remodel his vessel to offer fans the chance to safely and comfortably see a working fishing boat. Lethin planned to launch his first tour out of Ketchikan July 25. The captain was featured in the Discovery Channel’s “The Deadliest Catch,” which displayed the dangers of crab fishing in the unpredictable waters of the Bering Sea. Photo courtesy of Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour
For landlubbers intrigued by the popular Discovery Channel series “The Deadliest Catch,” there’s a new reality adventure offering a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience commercial fishing, in the calm, protected waters of Southeast Alaska.
David Lethin, owner of the 107-foot Aleutian Ballad, says the idea of a commercial tourism adventure that allows visitors to experience commercial fishing from the deck of a seasoned vessel came to him after scores of tourists kept watching fishermen like himself unload their catch at the docks.
It was about 10 years ago, while Lethin was unloading black cod and halibut at a dock in Southeast Alaska and he observed visitors aboard a cruise ship fascinated with his and other vessels unloading their wild Alaska harvest.
“I thought “I want to show people what’s under the water; if I could just do that,’” he said.
The idea took seed. Lethin proceeded to spend $2.5 million at Giddings Boat Works in Charleston, Ore., remodeling the Aleutian Ballad to safely accommodate a total of 150 visitors on the upper and lower decks, out of the way of working crew, but in clear sight of their activities. After several trial runs, with employees in the tourism industry as his guests, Lethin planned to launch his first tourist trip July 25, from the dock at Ketchikan.
He expects most of his guests, travelers on cruise ships, will find it the trip of a lifetime.
In the heated comfort of sheltered observation areas, visitors will be able to watch the crew launch and retrieve crab pots weighing 700 pounds each. During the four-hour tour of the fishing grounds offshore of the Metlakatla Indian community, the crew will talk with passengers about fishing practices and share stories of the sea, as other types of gear are baited and set to catch halibut, octopus, rockfish and numerous other species. Some of the sea life brought aboard will be placed in a huge live tank before they are released back into the sea.
“The key to this whole project is the Metlakatla Indian community, which lives on Annette Island,” Lethin said. Metlakatla Indians have agreed to a joint venture in which they are compensated for every individual who comes aboard the Aleutian Ballad for the journey, because the vessel brings them into Metlakatla waters. A bonus is that when local residents, whom Lethin describes as some of the best salmon fishermen in Alaska, are hauling in their catch, the Aleutian Ballad can pull up alongside so its guests can watch and photograph the salmon fishery.
Lynn Walton, a partner in the venture with Lethin, is equally excited about the venture.
“It’s an actual fishing operation, and will depend on tides and winds,” Walton said.
Tours run for four hours, and cost $189.