Over five seasons, the Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch"
has brought the high-risk lives of crab fishermen into living rooms everywhere. Sig Hansen, captain of the Northwestern, is one of the show's most beloved and charismatic characters. "Lets face it, as a captain, there's a little bit of an ego here," he says. "When we do well, those are bragging rights ... That's like winning the Super Bowl."
We recently spoke with the seafaring champion about what sort of guy can make it as a crab fisherman. Aside from a tireless work ethic and ridiculous pain threshold, we learned there are also various mental aspects behind landing the deadliest catch. If you think you've got what it takes, read on to find out.
Calm Down, Tough Guy
"We got résumés from all over the world, every walk of life. It's kind of flattering. I've got resumes from doctors, lawyers, all over the world. A lot of times on the resume they'll say something like, they're 6-foot-4, full of muscle ... That's great and all, but to be a fisherman you've just got to want it. It's not always about your size. It's about your willpower -- it's more mental than physical ... Sometimes it's like a jail sentence."Before Climbing Aboard ...
Hansen advises that those looking for a career change ask themselves a few simple questions: "Do I really want to leave home for this long? Is it really worth being gone from your family? Do they really want to risk their lives for a couple of bucks?" If the answer is yes, then get that résumé ready: "Anybody could be a fisherman if they want it bad enough. It's just one of those occupations where you've really got to want it. For us, it's more of a lifelong commitment."
Get Your Game Face On
"A lot of the guys -- I don't think there's a lot of physical preparation for a lot of 'em. It's all a mental game anyway. That just happens naturally. Two, three weeks before that season starts, your head is not at home. You're constantly thinking about going up -- the clock is ticking. Right before a big race I imagine a race-car driver would probably feel the same way. You know what's going to happen, you're getting amped up. You're already getting weather reports and ice reports, trying to figure out what's going on, pre-plan your game before you even get up there."
Addicted to Crab
"After a while you really get addicted to it. Being a deckhand is not easy, but the guys that stick to it, they become addicted. You get an adrenaline rush. There's that feeling of accomplishment that the guys come back for. They know they've made it through. The paycheck can be great, but we've gone for a couple of months and had to pay the boat $3,000 because we went in the hole, ran out of bait, there was no crab. You've just got to want to be a fisherman -- it's not always about the money." Let's Not Talk About Our Feelings
Sigmund Freud believed in the "talking cure." For Sig Hansen, dealing with problems on-board is more a matter of shutting the hell up. "Sometimes the best thing to do is not talk about it at all. Sometimes the best thing is to be silent. Let 'em go through the motions. They're gonna get angry, they're gonna get upset. A pep talk here or there doesn't hurt ... especially if one guy is really down. It's like a bad apple affecting the rest of the crew, like a disease that spreads. We usually try to pinpoint who it is and what the problem is and go after that. And a lot of times I'll use one guy to be a motivator for me, he'll spread a positive seed throughout the crew."
There's not much downtime on a crab fishing boat. There aren't flat-screen HD TVs or coolers full of beer. When there is a free moment, Hansen recommends a particularly mundane hobby: sleeping. "My grandfather was like, 'Anytime you can go to sleep, do it.' You never know what the next day is going to bring. Just being able to get a good nap is a break for us." Norwegian Fisherman's Diet
Hansen is famous for his minimalist diet while at sea. "That's just the way you're raised. We drink a lot of coffee, we smoke a lot of cigarettes. I'll go through a box of chocolate in two and a half days if we're really going for it. That's basically it. It's not like we're health nuts." Seahab
One thing that's not on the menu: booze. "Most of the guys, when we go to sea, we call that 'Seahab.' The guys have been partying too much, so when they get on the boat they know all bets are off. It's like rehab at sea. It's a really hard hurdle to get over, and they do it." Checking Out of Seahab
For crab fishermen, the end of the season happens exactly one way. If you've had one of those "Super Bowl" yields, Hansen says the mission is simple: "Go to town and get s**tfaced." And what if the final tallies are less than impressive? "We still go to town and get s**tfaced."Looking for more expert advice? Check out some of our recent columns.
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