The brotherhood of the sea is a brotherhood unlike many others. As we have seen displayed while watching Deadliest Catch for six seasons now, there have been many memorable moments. Of those moments, we have seen the brotherhood of the sea pushed to their limits. We have seen the tomfoolery with the locker room mentality of boys playing with fireworks, we saw them strutting their stuff in their underwear during a thirty knot wind in the middle of winter, teasing each other without mercy and just being boys who refuse to grow up. But when the chips are down, there is no better brotherhood to belong to than the brotherhood of the sea. Discovery Channel recently aired an episode of scariest moments these men and even some women encounter as part of their twenty-five year celebration of bringing us places we could never, or would never venture on our own.
This episode features our favorites from the Deadliest Catch fishing in the Bering Sea and along with lobster fishermen and women and boats who catch swordfish in the North Atlantic. Keep in mind that these were the scariest moments ever captured on film; one could just imagine how many were never captured and how many people perished for centuries in pursuit of the treasures of the sea since the beginning of time. Those who survive bring home epic stories of the deadly working conditions, unimaginable weather and death-defying rescues and true inspiration for their courage. They flash a snippet of Josh Harris on the Cornelia Marie who asks if you have ever seen someone fish in one hundred mile and hour winds. He then replies that you are about to see it now!
We begin watching the ice covered Time Bandit and hear the announcement on the weather band with storm warning today; northwest wind at fifty knots and seas at twenty-two feet. A quick flash to the Northwesters as Captain Sig hears a similar message as his boat disappears from view under a splash of a perilous wave. Another boat named Direction; a lobster boat in the North Atlantic hears a female voice on their weather band stating powerful storm is moving in and impacting New England offshore waters, hurricane warning for tonight west winds seventy knots, seven zero knots as waves crash in both directions and completely cover the deck of the boat.
They show the Wizard when half of the crew got hurt trying to secure the stack and Captain Keith yelling at them to watch out and hang on. Fans will remember his brother and another crewman were severely injured in that mishap. The Direction is fishing for lobster in Georges Bank and catching lobsters that have to weigh at least fifteen pounds. Off the notorious Grand Banks sword fishermen are hauling in giant sword fish being careful not to get speared as they haul them in. Three primary catches that can bring in a total of three hundred and twenty million dollars yearly; but not without the price they pay for their dangerous work on the deadliest square miles on the planet. The death toll averages to be about sixty-four lives every year.
On the Cornelia Marie, Phil is watching his crew drop pots in horrific conditions as waves crash over the deck. He tells us that those waves can wipe out anyone on the deck. Those crab pots weigh eight hundred pounds and can kill someone if they get hit by one as it crashes against the deck rail. While the pot is on the launcher a deckhand has to go in and hang bait. If the pot comes off the launcher it can slide overboard with the crewman inside. So much caution is taken, but at times these fishermen work for days on end and when they are tired, one careless move can bring them to their death.
On the Time Bandit, Captain Johnathan hears the alarm going off, which should alert the crew to all hands on deck. They are carefully going through ice floes that can pierce the hull of the boat and sink it. The Northwestern is facing the same treachery as Mother Nature wields her arsenal of deadly weapons. In 1990 a quarter mile off St. Paul Island’s rocky shore, ice sheared off the rudder of the Alaskan Monarch leaving her unable to steer. As they were left adrift and close to the rocky shore, they had to be airlifted by the Coast Guard, all hands were airlifted off the deck but the captain and a crewman. Suddenly a wave knocks both of them off the deck and into the water thrashing them against the rocks and ice chunks the size of a car. Fortunately for the captain, his entire crew was safe, but he sustained broken ribs and the very unfortunate loss of the Alaskan Monarch.
Several mishaps on deck are loose pots on an ever moving deck. On the Timothy Michael the lobster pots were stacked awaiting them to be secured by ropes when a rogue wave tossed the boat and scattered the pots. Fortunately nobody got hurt. So they stacked the pots again but tied them up wrong and less than twenty-four hours later another wave nearly caused the death of two crewmen. Although the lobster pots weigh only sixty pounds each, they can become cannonballs when flung about the deck and cause much damage to the fishermen. When not properly tied down, those stacks multiply into much pain and injury to the crew.
Being out to sea also makes it nearly impossible to leave the boat when injuries strike. Unless they are life threatening, they resort to patching each other and applying whatever first aid can be done on a rocking and rolling boat. We have seen teeth pulled with a pair of pliers, hot needles applied to a fingernail that has been smashed, and various swollen ankles and hands patched up with elastic bandages and duct tape. In 2008, Captain Linda Greenlaw of the Seahawk was fishing for swordfish when one of her deckhands was electrocuted after touching a shorted out plug while standing on the wet metal deck. As his muscles contracted he was frozen in place without the ability to move. Luckily after a while, he was all right but had he fallen over the rail, they would have never known what happened to him.
In addition to injuries to the crew which can cripple a fishing operation, probably the worst that can happen to a boat is mechanical failure or fire on a fishing vessel. To a fisherman the very worst that can happen is ‘˜man overboard.’ During the years of Deadliest Catch, we have seen several instances where deckhands were overboard and each one was rescued and did not suffer hypothermia because they were rescued in time. Just a few minutes in frigid water, especially in the Bering Sea during opilio season can be certain death to anyone who falls overboard unless they have their survival suit on. Fishermen do not work on deck with survival suits, they wear heavy slickers and boots and gloves to keep them as dry as possible, but they offer no protection if they go overboard.
One example of a good job gone wrong is when a cameraman named Heath Crawford was working on the F/V Direction in the North Atlantic in very rough seas. Heath suffered severe seasickness and was unable to stay hydrated. On the fourth day, he was in critical condition and suffered severe dehydration and shock. Unable to get water into his system; his muscles seized up and he was barely conscious. If help did not arrive soon, his organs would fail one by one and eventually kill him. Finally he was airlifted by the Coast Guard. As soon as they got him on the helicopter, he was hooked up to an IV and given fluids and administered a shot of adrenalin which had him alert by the time they got him to land.
Our hats are off to the men and women who fish the most dangerous waters and their captains who navigate those waters and the camera men and women who give us the opportunity to see just how hard and deadly a job like this can be. Thanks to the Discovery Channel celebrating twenty-five years of bringing the world into our living rooms, especially parts we could only imagine.