The freezing waters around Alaska are braved by crews of courageous men who fish for crab during the king crab season in October, and the opilio crab season in January. Discovery Channel formulated a documentary-type reality series that chronicles some of these men’s exploits, as they get tossed about on perilous seas. The series, showcasing one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, kicked off on 12th April 2005 and as at 14th September 2021 had run for 286 episodes over 18 seasons.
The series features some nail-biting moments, and has certainly had its fair share of heartbreaking tragedies and travesties – far too many to mention. So here we’re going to explore the main-players in the series, and vessels that sadly didn’t make it back to shore.
- 1 The end of the Alaskan Monarch
- 2 Big Valley goes down
- 3 Ocean Challenger capsizes
- 4 The Alaska Ranger sinks
- 5 The Katmai’s doom
- 6 The end of Carly Renee
- 7 The Destination’s fatal end
- 8 The Mary B II goes under
- 9 The Scandies Rose caught in the waves
- 10 The captains of “Deadliest Catch’s” Cornelia Marie
- 11 Captain Sig Hansen and the Northwestern
- 12 “Deadliest Catch” features high in the popularity stakes
The end of the Alaskan Monarch
This ship appeared in the second and third seasons of “Deadliest Catch”. Thick ice caused it to run aground on St. Paul Island on 15th March 1990. All crew were rescued by the US Coast Guard Cutter, Storis, and made it out alive, but the boat was trashed.
Big Valley goes down
“Big Valley” appeared in the pilot episode of “Deadliest Catch”. At 8am on 15th January 2005, when it was 70 miles (112 kms) off St. Paul Island, Alaska, the ship’s Captain Gary Edwards triggered the ship’s emergency radio alert. After the USCG Rescue Squad and search parties, including the Sea Rover (a ship that featured in Season 1), combed the sea for days, two bodies were recovered, and only one crew member survived. The Captain went down with his ship and his and two other bodies were never found. The only survivor, Cache Seel, said that he woke from his sleep to feel the ship rolling over, and hearing the commotion about him, dashed for the life raft. Later it was established that the Big Valley was hauling three times more weight than its capacity, and that this could have been the reason for its sinking.
F/V Big Valley and capt. Gary Edwards, opilio season 1.The Big Valley was a 92-foot (28 m) crabber boat. The vessel…
Ocean Challenger capsizes
This ship wasn’t featured in the “Deadliest Catch”, but in the third season episodes titled “A Tragic Beginning” and “The Unforgiving Sea”, some of the cast members were seen searching for and recovering bodies. This ship keeled over a mere 90 miles (270 kms) off the coast of Sand Point in October 2006. Although the exact reason was never discovered, it was apparently a result of inclement weather. Although a life raft was launched, the crew of four could not get to it due to the tumultuous waves, and only one of them, Kevin Ferrel survived as a result of his wearing a survival suit.
The Alaska Ranger sinks
Another great tragedy in “Deadliest Catch” was that of the Alaska Ranger, which was owned by a well-known fishing factory, and had been operating on the Alaskan seas for 30 years. Notwithstanding the years of sea experience, on 23rd March 2008 the boat capsized resulting in the grievous death of five men. After investigation, the cause ultimately appeared to be the loss of the rudder, which resulted in the flooding of the rudder room. Luckily 42 people were rescued, but a terrible oversight in miscommunication could have saved yet another. The coast guard had initially been informed that there were only 46 crew members, and the search was called off on the first day, only to find out the next day that yet another crew member had been lost at sea. At that stage, it was too late to save him, as there is normally a 13-hour limit in which one can survive those icy waters.
— U.S. Coast Guard (@USCG) March 27, 2022
The Katmai’s doom
Shortly afterwards, on 21st October 2008, the Katmai sank in a storm, as it sailed through the Amchitka Pass, about 120 miles (193 kms) west of Adak Island. When the captain realized that the situation was critical, he ordered his crew to put on their survival suits. Yet seven crew members didn’t make it, of whom two bodies were never found. Four people survived including the captain, Henry Blake III. When attending the Coast Guard Marine Board Investigation, he attested that the ship had had issues with its pumps since the fishing seasons kick-off. This led to the vessel becoming flooded, and ended up being the reason for its demise.
The end of Carly Renee
This cod fishing vessel, which appeared in Season 6 of the show, capsized 22 miles (35 kms) from Dutch Harbor in early 2009. When it partially sank, its crew of four men abandoned the ship and were rescued by another boat, The Guardian. The Carly Renee ran aground on an island nearby, where it was left to corrode
The Destination’s fatal end
The catastrophic sinking of the Destination on 11th February 2017, claimed the life of every individual on board. Keith Colburn of ‘Deadliest Catch’ was well acquainted with everyone on the vessel. Captain Jeff Hathaway, Raymon J. Vincler, Darrik Seibold, Kai Hamic, Larry O’Grady and Charles Glenn Jones, who all considered each other to be a ‘family’, were all missing at sea. This all happened while the episode “Lost at Sea” was being filmed, showing the “Deadliest Catch” crews receiving the news of the Destination’s demise. Notwithstanding the efforts made by the Coast Guard and fishing vessel, Silver Spray, that intercepted a radio signal when the Coast Guard attempted to contact the Destination and turned back to help, the trawler Bering Rose and other ships in the area who rushed to help, all their efforts only uncovered the ships debris and the floating EPIRB (emergency position-indicating radio beacon).
It remains a mystery why the sinking happened so quickly, that the crew were not able to even send out a mayday signal. After intensive investigations no one was any the wiser; was it the weight of the crab pots or the additional bait they had loaded before departure? Was it the weather conditions? The final summation was that it was a combination of all those factors.
As a result of this tragedy, some of the fisheries management systems, e.g. the disconnect between owners and crew, deadline pressures and particularly crab rationalization, which culminated in a race between boats to see who would be the fastest to catch the most crabs, were changed to a more controlled system of allocated quotas and shares.
Prayers and best wishes for the captain, crew, and loved ones of F/V Destination, missing in the Bering Sea since Saturday. pic.twitter.com/M9SkOd4KYL
— Cliff W Estes (@cestes001) February 14, 2017
The Mary B II goes under
A year later, the F/V Mary B II, which had been featured in the episode entitled “Dungeon Cove”, sent a distress call to the Coast Guard, but the height of the waves prevented rescue crews from getting there in time. The boat flipped over, and three crew members died.
The Scandies Rose caught in the waves
On New Year’s Eve 31st December 2021, seven men set out on a crabbing expedition from Juneau, Alaska upon the Scandies Rose. The air temperature was 10 degrees fahrenheit (-12 centigrade) and the Bering Sea temperature about 43 degrees (6 degrees centigrade). The wind was blowing at over 40 mph (64 km/h) with heavy, freezing spray, and the seas were churning up waves 20 ft (9 m) high.
About 170 miles (274 kms) out, southwest of Kodiak Island, the crew realized that they were in danger and radioed the Coast Guard for help. Too late! The Scandies Rose sank at about 10pm.
From the moment the distress signal was sent, it took air and sea rescue crews four hours to reach the ship’s last known position, then battling the poor visibility searching for possible survivors. A life raft was located, but upon lowering down a medic from a helicopter, it was found empty. About half a mile further, two crew members were found; in the confusion of the ship’s last moments, they had somehow managed to don their survival suits. Although Coast Guard teams traversed the waters around the sunken ship for a good 20 hours, no further survivors were found, and at that stage it wasn’t likely that any had survived, so the search was aborted. The captain, Gary Cobban Jr. was identified as missing along with crew members, David Lee Cobban, Arthur Ganacias, Brock Rainey and Seth Rousseau-Gano.
This event was not showcased on “Deadliest Catch”, but involved Dean Gribble Jr., who had featured in the 13th episode of the show. He was very fortunate to have survived, along with John Lawler; both were hospitalised and treated for hypothermia. After their release, they described how they were suddenly woken up from their sleep, realizing that the boat was in dire straits, and had about 10 minutes to get into their survival suits before been thrown into the sea. As Dean Gribble Jr. put it to ABC News, “‘From sleeping to swimming was about 10 minutes’.
The captains of “Deadliest Catch’s” Cornelia Marie
This fishing vessel has many stories to tell, about the men who captained her, and a multitude of frightening times on tumultuous seas.
Phillip Charles Harris started fishing with his father when he was eight years old, and at 21, was one of the youngest crab fishing boat captains off the Alaskan shore. He was part owner, and captained the Cornelia Marie for 20 years. From 2004 onwards, a film crew was entrenched on his ship for the filming of “Deadliest Catch”, and Captain Phil Harris was a great favourite with the fans.
While Season 6 of the series was being filmed, and as they were unloading crab off the Cornelia Marie at St. Paul Island on 29th January 2010, Captain Harris suffered a stroke. He instructed Thom Beers, the producer and creator of the series, that the camera crews should continue to film him. Accordingly, filming continued as Captain Harris was being airlifted to a hospital in Anchorage, Alaska. After an emergency operation and 11 days in ICU, Captain Harris passed away on 9th February at the age of 53. He was honored in the 6th season episode entitled “Valhalla”.
After the death of Captain Harris, Tony Lara took over as the fourth captain of the fishing vessel, Cornelia Marie. He took part in six episodes of “Deadliest Catch” and was a well-liked character. Unfortunately, he had a heart attack while taking part in the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally on 8th August 2015 and passed away.
Phil’s son, Josh Harris took over as captain of the Cornelia Marie. After his father’s death, he reconnected with his brother Shane, whom he hadn’t seen for years, who took up crab fishing at the age of 46, and joined the Cornelia Marie crew. His lack of experience was initially a source of concern for Josh. Together with authors Steve Springer and Blake Chavez, Josh and Jake Harris co-wrote the book “Captain Phil Harris: The Legendary Crab Fisherman, Our Hero, Our Dad”. According to authoritative sources, Josh’s net worth is $800,000, as of mid-2022.
Captain Sig Hansen and the Northwestern
Sig Hansen‘s grandfather was one of the pioneers of opilio crab fishing in Alaska. Sig began fishing by working on his family’s boat when he was 14. After matriculating from school, he spent about 10 months every year in Alaska and on the Bering Sea. When he was 24, he started operating the fishing vessel, Northwestern full-time, and over some 20 years, the boat has become known as a top producer with a low injury rate, and not a single record of death at sea.
Sig has appeared in other TV shows and interviews, such as “Dancing with the Stars” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”. He did a voice over in the Disney Pixar movie, “Cars 2”, and in March 2010, published a best-selling book which he co-wrote with Mark Sundeen entitled “North By Northwestern: A Seafaring Family on Deadly Alaskan Waters”. He also acted as a consultant to “Deadliest Catch”. He has netted the most from the series, and is currently estimated to be worth about $4 million.
In 2016, while at sea on the Northwestern, the show’s fans witnessed Sig suffering a heart attack. After the ship reached Dutch Harbor, Sig visited a specialist in Anchorage and learnt the full extent of his heart condition. He was forced to recover at home, and missed a whole season of the show.
In October 2018 Sig had another heart attack which was supposedly caused by an allergic reaction to medication, and was only able to return to the show for its 15th season.
Sig had been under stress, and fighting some legal issues for years; his lifestyle on the sea hasn’t benefitted his health. His adopted daughter, Mandy Hansen, appeared as a guest star on the show in 2009 when she was 13, during the “After the Catch” segment. Mandy’s dreams had always been to become part of the family business, but her parents weren’t too happy with the idea, Sig’s belief being that fishing was more suited to men. However, she was determined, and went on to use her skills and experience, plus her training in the Maritime Academy in San Diego, to obtain her license to captain large ships. Having worked on the Northwestern after high school, it took a few seasons for her to be promoted, and she’s now an indispensable part of the crew. Her husband, Clark Pederson, is also a cast member of the show. Right now, Mandy is waiting to give birth, whilst Clark is working on board the Northwestern. Will they reach quota in time to catch the birth?
“Deadliest Catch” features high in the popularity stakes
The “Deadliest Catch” has proved to be highly popular, with each season’s ratings exceeding the previous one, and has notched up a record number of viewings for key episodes on Discovery Channel; they have almost three million followers on their Facebook page. On the 19th April 2022, the latest season, “Deadliest Catch: Bloodline” was launched, and has its audience glued to their seats once again.
It’s no wonder that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Alaska calls commercial fishing one of the country’s most perilous occupations. These fishermen have a great respect for the sea, and brave extreme conditions – freezing temperatures, stormy waves, heavy swinging crab pots and so much more. Their passion is what fuels them, and the “Deadliest Catch” is a window into their world, to witness their trials and tribulations.