The Hillstrands, their book and how they live on the edge

In an article by Michael Armstrong from, Johnathan and Andy Hillstrand explain how they came to be the adventure seekers that they are.  If you’ve already read their book, Time Bandit, then you have probably already surmised that these fishermen were raised to deal with danger as if it were the standard every-day lifestyle…Probably not a bad idea if you were raised in Homer, Alaska, with five brothers, and a father who was known as one of the best fishermen in the area….


Between broken bones, boat sinkings and bee stings, that Andy and Johnathan Hillstrand lived to adulthood could be considered a miracle. They went so many times to the emergency room for stitches the doctor told their mother, “Mrs. Hillstrand, you’ve seen this done enough times. Why don’t you do it and save yourself the trip?”  

“We thought of danger merely as a higher form of fun,” Johnathan Hillstrand writes in “Time Bandit: Two Brothers, The Bering Sea and One of the World’s Deadliest Jobs,” the new book he wrote with his brother Andy. “A popular book today is ‘The Dangerous Book for Boys’; we did not need to read about danger. We lived it without knowing what it was; we know how it felt, and it felt fine.”

Photo by Michael Armstrong
Johnathan and Andy Hillstrand, co-captains of the F/V Time Bandit, pose in the wheelhouse at dock in Homer after a successful crabbing season. The Hillstrands’ new book, “Time Bandit: Two Brothers, the Bering Sea and One of the World’s Deadliest Jobs,” will be published in April by Ballantine Books.  

Written with former Newsweek writer Malcolm MacPherson, publisher Random House released “Time Bandit” last month, just in time for the F/V Time Bandit crabbers to promote their book at the start of the fourth season of “The Deadliest Catch,” The Discovery Channel’s top-rated series. The Hillstrands have done book signings in New York, Pennsylvania and will do signings this month in Seattle, Portland, Denver, North Carolina and Evansville, Ind. They also have been promoting the cable TV show, as well as a companion book to the series, “Deadliest Catch: Desperate Hours,” edited by Larry Erickson.

Andy Hillstrand said the signings have gone great, with up to 650 people showing up. Reaction from readers has been positive, Andy said in a phone interview this week from his horse ranch in Indiana.

“They say it’s a great read. They say they can’t put it down,” he said. “Our mom was kind of sad because we cussed in it,” he added.

Co-captains on the Time Bandit, one of the six crabbing boats featured on “Deadliest Catch,” the Hillstrands have become as popular as NASCAR drivers. Some of their biggest fans are race car drivers, in fact, along with soldiers, firefighters and cops. Fishermen have hailed them as bringing respect back to the profession and showing the world the hard work of fishing.

While “Time Bandit” tells a lot of the white-knuckle, teeth-gnashing adventures seen on “Deadliest Catch,” the real story is one familiar to many a Homer fishing family: growing up wild, loose and free at the end of the Homer Spit in the 1960s.

“The Spit’s a good baby sitter,” is how Johnathan put it.

The sons of the legendary fisherman John Hillstrand and grandsons of Earl Hillstrand the founder of Land’s End Resort and a former owner of the Salty Dawg the Hillstrand boys fished, played, caught crab and raised heck back in the days when Homer didn’t have many paved streets and everyone knew everyone else, sometimes too well. The guys don’t hold back there is a lot of cussing in the book and write frankly about alcoholism, divorce and the challenges of growing to adulthood in a family that wasn’t exactly “Leave it to Beaver.”

What stands out, though, is the love Andy and Johnathan show each other, as well as for their brothers Neal and Michael. Though they might fight and play pranks on each other one time, Johnathan chopped down a tree Andy stood in while bear hunting the brothers take care of each other.

There’s the time Andy hauled Johnathan to the hospital after Johnathan jumped off a boat onto the beach, breaking both ankle and his wrist and that was days after Andy had injured his back and broken ribs in a motorcycle accident.

The doctors looked at them and said, “You two just used up eight of your lives,” they write in “Time Bandit.”


MacPherson and the Hillstrands have crafted a narrative arc in their book that keeps the memoir suspenseful, but allows them to jump around from childhood to adulthood and in between. The book starts with Johnathan stranded on his salmon fishing boat, the F/V Fishing Fever, adrift in lower Cook Inlet with motor and all electronics down. As Johnathan ponders his uncertain destiny, he thinks back about his adventures. Andy’s story comes in, too. Periodically Johnathan returns to the Fishing Fever and the latest crisis.

Fans of “Deadliest Catch” will find plenty of crabbing stories. The saddest is of the Hillstrands trying to save the captain of the F/V Troika. The Time Bandit and several other vessels ran to a report of the Troika taking on water. They got the captain out of the sea, but he’d already swallowed water and become severely hypothermic. Despite hours of CPR, the captain died in the Time Bandit’s stateroom.

Read the rest of the story after the jump

This entry was posted in Andy Hillstrand, F/V Timebandit, Johnathan Hillstrand and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Hillstrands, their book and how they live on the edge

  1. Russian Visa says:

    Your article is much more informatics for all of the visitor or tourist.I am very happy to read it. This is really very nice. Thank you for it.

  2. Its going to be an interesting read.. Im wondering about the drama thats going on now.. Did you guys really breach the contract? is it really irreparable.. I guess time will only tell..

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