Season six had to be the hardest season to watch Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch and with one episode left and the loss of a favorite captain of the crab fishing fleet, Deadliest Catch gave us a one hour tribute episode that delved deeper into Phil’s life and left no questions behind as to what made this man such an icon to us all.
This episode showed us that Phil was just human and loved life. He never shirked responsibility but abusing your body takes its toll. I truly think that Phil would have it no other way. He lived to crab when he was working and crab he did. He had wonderful luck finding those elusive crabs and it truly paid off during his life. He made a lot of money and had fun with it during his life. As a captain of a vessel that sails the Bering Sea, one must truly have nerves of steel and the glimpse we got into Phil’s life showed that when he wasn’t crabbing, he was seeking the same rush he got from driving the boat through the rough seas. He loved fast cars and motorcycles and was a product of growing up in the sixties and seventies.
Philip Charles Harris was born in Bothell, Washington, just twelve miles from the busy port city of Seattle in 1956. He lost his mother Phyllis when he was just eight years old to skin cancer. Phil was very close to his mother because his father Grant was a salmon fisherman who was away fishing half of the year. Since Grant had no idea how to be a parent after the death of his wife, he taught Phil exactly what he knew and from age eight until he was a teenager, Phil was on the boat with his Dad learning how to fish. And fish he did; his father says he always had the knack of finding the fish, wherever they would hide.
His friends from high school, Terry Landa, Jeff Sheets and Bill Stinnette had a band and at fifteen, Phil and his friends rented a house to practice their music and have parties. The kids loved to hang out there because it was a great place to have fun without parents. Phil fell in love with motorcycles and fast cars and to support his expensive habit, he knew he would have to break into crab fishing because that was where the big money was.
Captain Joe Wabey was the skipper of a crab boat who Phil targeted as his mentor. At seventeen years of age, he pestered Joe to give him a job and asked if he could please work on his boat for free for a year. Figuring he was just a dumb kid, Joe took him on and gave him all the worst jobs on the boat which he did without a complaint. The captain even told him he would fail; but Phil was determined to learn the business and did so from the bottom up. They nicknamed him “Dirt” because he would work and work and come in to port; offload and return to sea and he never even showered. After three months on the boat, a crewman broke his leg and Phil went from being a “nobody” to a full share guy and made $130,000 in the next month. He came home to his town and went to his old guidance counselor with his bag of money and offered to buy her house. She had predicted back in junior high school that Phil would never amount to much, but refused to sell him the house anyway. So he bought some cars, hookers and recreational things. He had three Harley-Davidsons in his living room.
In 1978 he was again fishing with his father who was now part owner and skipper of the crab vessel Golden Viking, but Phil cut his finger off and had to come home. Later that season a typhoon hit Grant’s boat and he was seriously injured. Phil was not aboard when this happened. A seventy to eighty foot wave hit his boat and knocked out windows and his navigation instruments. A distress call was sent out and that was the last anyone heard of them. For eight days they searched for them with no luck. After five or six days, Phil went to visit the families to tell them the sad news. These were friends who Phil went to school with and his father, of all people, his only living parent. As miracles would happen, the boat returned to Akutan on the eighth day with no instruments to guide them home.
More to follow.