Saturday, February 13, 2010

Captain Phil Harris

One of my favorite TV shows is Deadliest Catch.  My wife and I both enjoy this show.  

We were saddened to learn that Captain Phil Harris, whose fishing adventures off the Alaska coast were captured by the Discovery Channel has died at the young age of 53.

It was reported that on January 29th, Captain Harris had a stroke while unloading his boat in the Alaskan port at St Paul Island.  Harris, who was based out of Seattle, suffered the stroke during an offload of crab. He was found unconscious in a stateroom and airlifted to Anchorage for 12 hours of surgery, then placed in a medically induced coma. He'd shown signs of improvement last week, squeezing hands and even telling his doctors and nurses, in his signature gruff style, to not screw things up.

Last year Harris was unable to pilot his boat after being diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism and told by his doctors to retire.

On the show's Web page, where updates on Harris' condition had been posted since his Jan. 30 stroke, sons Jake and Josh Harris gave notice of their father's passing;

"It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to our dad -- Captain Phil Harris. Dad has always been a fighter and continued to be until the end. For us and the crew, he was someone who never backed down. We will remember and celebrate that strength. Thanks to everyone for their thoughts and prayers."

For those  unfamiliar with the Deadliest Catch, it follows several crews working the Bering Sea during the area's crab fishing seasons.  This may not sound interesting, however every show is an adventure.

The crew is on the deck of an 80 foot boat traversing the icy sea in sub-zero weather. They withstand the elements, are perputually soaked from the waves and risk their lives to harvest Alaskan King and Snow Crab.

The words hard work do not even begin to describe what these men do for a living. However for a few months work, the rewards can be incredible, depending upon how much crab is caught.

The Cornelia Marie is one of four boats in the permanent fleet.  The other boats are the Northwestern, with Captain Sig Hansen,  Captains Andy and Johnathan Hillstrand piloting the Time Bandit, and the Wizard, with Keith and Monte Colburn as Co-Captains. 

When the crab are running, the crew members work day and night, up to 40 hours at a stretch. They haul 800-pound pots in 30-foot waves and 60-knot winds, with seas cresting over the deck.  The crew must bait and toss the pots overboard into the sea and mark them with a bouy.  They then return to port in Dutch Harbor Alaska, hopefully with a large catch.

While in high school it was suggested by a friend to take a job on a crab fishing boat.  The guy told Phil that he had made enough money to pay off his car. 

Harris stated that on his first trip on the crab boat, he worked for two months without pay, just to prove himself. " A guy got hurt on the boat and I took his place and I made $135,000 in a month."  After that Harris was hooked.

The show has lived up to its name. In its first season one of the featured boats, the Big Valley, sank, drowning all but one of its crew. The rescue by the Coast Guard and the search by the other boats and Captain were dramatic and touching.

Captain Harris joined the search. His rescue efforts brought him to the attention of the show’s producers.

Captain Harris fit the profile of a sea captain. He was husky, six feet tall, with hair down to his collar and tattoos from his shoulders to his elbows. One arm showed grizzled pirate on and the other bore a Harley-Davidson emblem.

Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel, is watched by about three million viewers a week, making it one of the top-rated programs on basic cable.

The show’s theme is the sometimes monotonous, extremely physical and always dangerous job of fishing the icy waters of the Bering Sea and how the boat's pilots, the Captains, face the intense and extremely stressful job of protecting their crew from the dangers of life on the Northern Sea in the course of doing their job. 

The show likewise deals with the way the crew handles a job in which they are continually living on the edge in a brutal enviroment.

Captain Harris will definitely be missed by all of us. May God bless him and his family.