Captain Sig Hansen of the F/V Northwestern gave this interview in New Zealand on October 4th. With the opening of this year’s 2007 King crab season on the horizon (Oct. 15th), this may be the last time we hear directly from him for a little while…
Captain Sig Hansen is a fourth generation fisherman who operates in the treacherous Bering Sea, Alaska. He’s one of the stars of Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch, which follows the borderline crazy members of the fishing boat fleet during king crab season. Every year they are faced with giant waves, 130km/h winds, and subfreezing weather making it the “most dangerous job in the world”.
So Sig, is it one of the most dangerous jobs in the world?
It’s up there. The statistics over the years prove that. But we’re not proud of that and, you know, I don’t think before the show aired that any of the fishermen contemplated it that way and it was never a big issue. It was always this big secret. Fishermen are very secretive. So as far as it being the most dangerous job in the world, it wasn’t really thought of. We just go out and try to make money and the show brought attention to that. We always knew it was dangerous, we always knew it was high-risk, but we never really took it to heart.
Why do you as a captain have such a good safety record?
It’s because we’ve always had the same people on the boat. My brothers are on there and we’ve had some people for 20 years and that teamwork makes it safer. The communication between them and me is good.
Oh yeah. I can run the boat better than everybody else because I’ve been there longer than anybody else and I know her limitations better than anybody else. So when I push the envelope I can do that, and there are times when the guys have come up to the wheelhouse for a chat and they are looking out and they’re like, “Holy crap”. They can’t believe what they are seeing.
What does it take to be on your crew – mentally and physically?
I think it’s 70 per cent mental and 30 per cent physical. It’s definitely more mental because you don’t have to be a big guy. Being big doesn’t hurt but you’ve really got to want to be there and the dumber you are the better. Guys that can listen and learn routines, and if they can learn our way then they will be all right. It’s kind of like this military thing but it may save their life one day.
Are you still amazed at what you see out there?
I think the older I get the more I start to think, ‘When is your time coming?’ We’ve been lucky. We haven’t lost any windows, or lost any electrics because a wave has gone through the wheelhouse. But we’ve pushed the envelope and at the same time we’re careful enough to know our limits.
So is fishing in the blood?
I think so. I care more about it than most people because I have something to prove. I’m fourth generation so you hear all these stories about your great grandfather, your grandfather and your father and you just want to prove yourself. It doesn’t always mean you have to be number one, or even try to be, but as long as you can make money and be above average and keep that steady income then you’ve proven yourself.
What stories inspire you to keep fishing in such a dangerous area?
As a child growing up you hear all these stories of boats going down, record-breaking crab seasons. When my grandfather was fishing herring in Norway and they filled the boat to the point where they sank it. And my father, who passed away a few years ago now, he has a great reputation and people always bragged about him, he never bragged about himself and it’s just that whole kind of attitude that shines through.
With the amount of money you guys make you must be a very wealthy man. Why do you keep doing it every year?
I suppose if we had to quit right now we could manage. But it’s all I know, it’s my job and I’m still young so we’ve got a few years left in us. Put it this way: it’s our responsibility to do it and you don’t just leave your boat sitting at the dock.