The Way It Is on the F/V Northwestern

Not surprisingly, these guys not only work long hours and take short 4-hour naps between shift, they also rotate eating when they’re on the grind, and peanut butter is often the special of the day!  Check out this article posted in Freep.com and written by Luaine Lee…

When you contemplate the firmament of TV stars, your first thoughts don’t fall on a pair of macho fishermen who combat the elements eight months of the year in a battle for Alaska’s king crab. But Sig and Edgar Hansen find themselves in that rarefied company.

Sig is captain and Edgar deck boss of the Northwestern, one of the six boats featured on the Discovery Channel’s surprise current hit, “Deadliest Catch.”

Whether it’s surviving four-story high waves, bone-breaking temperatures or paralyzing fatigue, Sig Hansen, 42, has been skippering for 18 years. With Edgar, 37, and another brother, Norman, 41, they challenge the sea the way their Norwegian father, grandfather and great-grandfather did.


(Photo courtesy of Cameron Glendenning/Discovery)
Crew members pull a pot full of crab over the icy rail. Crews can earn $40,000 to $50,000 per season, depending on the catch.

“The first couple years I hated it, but it grows on you,” says Edgar Hansen. “It’s addicting. It’s a different world when you’re out there in the middle of nowhere, something about it keeps drawing me back.”

It’s a gambler’s game. Crews can earn $40,000 to $50,000 per season, depending on the catch. Captains make twice that amount. If the weather turns on them, the catch diminishes or the ship falters, they can go home empty-handed.

Each boat is given a quota. “They take an average of your catch history and that makes the quota,” explains Sig. “Now a guy who isn’t participating can lease his quota so he doesn’t have to use his boat and they actually make more money sitting at the dock. If I come up with a deal with you and say I’ll fish your quota, it’s a 50-50 split — you’re already 20% ahead. But I’m fishing other people’s quotas, and it adds up.”

Sig Hansen likes to keep the same crew, not only for crab fishing, but he also runs salmon charters and fishes cod. “We have the same people coming back and we do pay them a little more percentage,” says Sig, “and the boat is safer. On our boat we have a lot of family on there. It’s usually someone you know, it’s nice to hire someone you know is going to stick around for a while.”

“You don’t have applications and résumés,” says Edgar. “The guy who’s beating everybody up, that’s the guy you want to take with you.”

The boats fish the Bering Sea out of Dutch Harbor. While life on shore can be as wild as the Barbary Coast, not so onboard, says Sig.

“Back in the day, there was a lot of alcohol and drug abuse on the boats in the ’70s and early ’80s. Nowadays we’re much more regulated. So the guys, if they want to do their drinking, do it in town. … But on the boat, no. It’s like an honorable thing, you don’t do that. Nowadays we have to take urine samples if there’s an injury.”

Each trip can range from 2 1/2 days to three weeks. Though they use an electronic plotter and a GPS, finding the crustaceans is still dependent on the captain’s instincts.

There are four men on deck at all times, one in the bunk. They sleep and eat in rotation. “Guys like a steak when they can get it. They may have their dinner at 7 in the morning,” says Sig.

“We take turns (eating) one guy at a time, with our slickers on,” says Edgar.

Hansen spends between $5,000-$10,000 on dry goods per season. Meals are rushed and the most common fare is peanut butter sandwiches, each man for himself.

Sig describes the routine: “We’ll have a four-hour runout, I’ll stay awake for two days, take a little four-hour nap or something — stay awake for one more day and the guys will run the boat in. The guys are doing 16-hour shifts, four hours in the bunk. … They rotate like that. It’s a machine which never stops.”

Read the rest, after the jump

This entry was posted in Deadliest Catch 4, F/V Northwestern, Sig Hansen and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Way It Is on the F/V Northwestern

  1. Dick Sutterlin says:

    Sig,
    Great to watch you guys on TV. Someplace back in the 80s I skippered the Northwestern to Dutch from Seattle for your Dad. I also was skipper on the Enterprise for the salmon seasons for 3 years. What ever happened to the Enterprise?Best Regards,
    Dick Sutterlin

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