`Catch' fishermen have a right to be crabby about work

June 19, 2006|By KEVIN COWHERD

Job got you down?

Putting in crazy-long hours?

Workplace conditions leave you shaking your head?

Do yourself a favor, OK?

Go watch Deadliest Catch, the Discovery Channel's hit series about the rigors of being an Alaska king-crab fisherman on the Bering Sea.

Believe me, after seeing what these guys do for a paycheck, you'll never whine at the office again.

In fact, you might be the one whistling and bringing in the doughnuts from now on.

Let's tick off just a few reasons why Alaska crab fishing is considered, as the show proclaims, "one of the deadliest jobs in the world":

Fifty-knot winds crueler than Ann Coulter.

Three-story-high waves.

Twenty-hour workdays unloading 700-pound crab pots careering wildly overhead at all times.

The constant threat of being swept overboard at any moment into the Bering Sea, where you'll last about 10 seconds before freezing to death and becoming hors d'oeuvre for a killer whale.

How's that for a few workplace negatives?

"It's a high-stress job," notes John Hillstrand, captain of the Time Bandit, one of six crab-boats featured in the series.

High-stress?

Ya think?

Just because 41 men have lost their lives crab-fishing in the last decade?

And hundreds of others have been hurt and maimed?

Meanwhile, what's the worst thing that happens on your job?

The paper jams on the printer?

The Internet goes down for 10 minutes?

Someone screws up the lunch order and there are no pickles?

Yeah, I'm sure the men on the Time Bandit -- and Cornelia Marie, Rollo, Northwestern, Maverick and Aleutian Ballad -- feel for you.

Anyway, now that The Sopranos has gone on another three-year hiatus or whatever, Deadliest Catch is my favorite show on TV.

Not only is it a real "reality" show, it's way more compelling than, say, watching crazy Howie Mandel pressure some poor mope trying to guess which briefcase holds a bundle of cash.

It also gives you a glimpse into a way of life most of us know very little about, a hard, demanding life that really makes you think.

And mainly what it makes you think is: Are these guys out of their minds?!

Sure, these king-crab fishermen can make a lot of money -- the Cornelia Marie netted $250,000 from one particularly nice run of fishing, guaranteeing a three-day bender for the crew, I'm sure.

But, man, it's a hard life.

In one episode, a greenhorn crab fisherman -- overcome with the realization that he was miles from land and doing dangerous, back-breaking work for the next few weeks -- freaked out aboard the Aleutian Ballad and threatened to jump overboard if he wasn't taken back to land.

(The boat took him back, with the unscheduled trip costing the crew thousands of dollars in lost fishing time.)

Another episode ended with a 60-foot rogue wave slamming into the Aleutian Ballad and pitching it on its side -- just as the credits began to roll, conveniently ratcheting up the drama for the next show.

Add to that the howling storms, machinery malfunctions and bickering crewmen -- I'd get a little testy after a couple weeks of 20-hour workdays in foul-weather gear that stinks of crab, wouldn't you? -- and you wonder why everyone on board doesn't freak out.

But they don't.

Instead, they just ... smoke.

Yep, everyone smokes.

And everyone smokes all the time.

They smoke when they're resting. They smoke when they're working. They smoke when they're eating.

I'm surprised one of the boats isn't named the Marlboro Light.

Then again, I'd have a three-pack a day habit, too, if I had that much stress in my life.

Anyway, if you haven't seen Deadliest Catch, the season finale aired last week. But reruns are on all the time.

It really will make you see your own job in a different light.

Me, I'll be bringing in doughnuts any day now.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

To hear podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, go to baltimoresun.com/cowherd.

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