Novid Parsi of Time Out Chicago just recently sat down with captains Johnathon and Andy Hillstrand of the F/V Timebandit, and got their take on season 5, crab fishing, and what it’s like living on the edge…
Tonight, the Discovery Channel airs the fifth-season premiere of its cult hit Deadliest Catch. In the Bering Sea, the reality show follows the boats and crewmen engaged in the treacherous, high-stakes profession of crab fishing. Recently, I tracked down two of the series’ salty captains, Johnathan Hillstrand, 46, and his brother Andy, 45—in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Four Seasons Hotel. The brothers sat down on a comfy couch to tell of the adventures they’ve seen on their vessel, Time Bandit.
Time Out Chicago: When you’re at sea under terrible conditions, facing financial and physical risk, there must be times when you say to yourselves, “There’s gotta be an easier way to make a living.”
Johnathan Hillstrand: The wintertime. We don’t need to do it; we could retire and just let the boat make money for us.
Andy Hillstrand: You’re living in the moment, though. When all that bad stuff’s happening, you’re living in that moment. A lot of guys just drink it away. We have short-term memories, fishermen. You can say, “I’ll never do this again,” and when the next season comes around, you’re ready to go.
TOC: You say you don’t have to do it—then why do you do it?
Johnathan: I missed an opie season once, and it was—like, the guys were out there fishing without me, and it killed me. It hurt my soul.
Andy: I’ve done it 29 years; he’s done it 30 years now—crab fishing professionally. We’ve been on boats our whole lives. If you don’t do it—
Johnathan: It just kills you.
Andy: You just feel—it’s like sitting in this hotel.
TOC: It also sounds like, especially you Johnathan, you’re more likely to get into trouble on land than on water.
Andy: Well, you can definitely find more trouble on land.
Johnathan: [Laughs] We take a break when we go fishing.
Andy: You get back into the city, the real world, and you’re like, Whoah. You have to communicate with people normal, instead of, like—you don’t really want to see people.
Johnathan: It’s a culture shock.
Andy: You’re doing ten miles an hour on the water for two to three months. You get out, and you’re doing 55, 75 in a car. You’re freaking out.
Johnathan: “What the hell.”
TOC: Do you still get up to those high-jinks on land? Johnathan, like the time you fought with the bouncers in Rhode Island and they threw you against a Porsche?
Andy: You kinda quit doing that—much.
Johnathan: No, I don’t fight that much. Maybe once or twice a year. I’m getting old.
TOC: Have to cut back, huh?
Johnathan: I don’t back down.
TOC: Commercial fishing has the highest fatality rate of any profession. Even for you guys, with your experience, that’s still a reality?
Andy: You have to really watch it ’cause you don’t get a lot of second chances. There’s not a lot of do-overs out there.
TOC: In the new season, there’s a scene where all you captains are standing around, talking about how not a lot of young guys are entering this line of work. But has the show attracted any crazy adventure-seekers?
Johnathan: Yeah, they come out there, and they don’t realize it’s gonna be minus 40, and you’re stuck on an island.
Andy: On the show, they hire a greenhorn, and then he just melts down. “I put my pant legs on one at a time—”
Johnathan: That guy goes, “I put my pants on just like they do.” Yeah, but your pants have been inside in the galley—
Andy: While these guys are working. Guys want to do it, but it’s also not that many boats. There’s only 70 boats that do it anymore.
Johnathan: Only 420 guys in the world that crab fish. Used to be about 1,200.
Andy: Used to be 240 boats and six guys per each crew…
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