Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Deadliest Catch
Last week, I purged my soul of a dark secret: the time I spend watching true crime. It’s time for a full confession: I have been known to watch Discovery Channel. More specifically, I have a fascination with Deadliest Catch.

But, unlike the wannabe adrenaline junkies; the teenaged boys dreaming of quick money and life on the wilds of the Bering Sea, the dreamers who think Midwest bass fishing with uncle Joe qualifies them for a position as deckhand on a commercial crab boat, my interest is personal.

I can’t sit through a whole show. I catch re-runs in bits and pieces; they hook me as I pass through the living room. As soon as the initial “Hey, I know that guy!” reaction wears off, a knot of emotion begins to travel from my stomach, to my chest; catching in my throat.

My fifteen-year-old son doesn’t miss an episode. As I watch from the kitchen, his silhouette becomes part of the show. His father is a crab boat captain. I was, for fifteen years, a “fish-wife.” The Bering Sea has taken six of my friends; my ex-husband’s sister-ship; my best friend’s husband, and left too many children I know fatherless.

As much as crab fishing has slipped into my past, I’m afraid it will be part of my future. My son has the fishing bug. Worse, he’s been to Alaska, worked all summer, and not shaken the bug – a sure sign that he has what it takes to be a Bering Sea cowboy. I suspect my days of hoping the coast guard doesn’t call my house are not over.

On the lighter side of the issue, a quick browse of the internet for Deadliest Catch fodder unearthed a disturbing reality – groupies. Aside from the teenaged boys smitten by the danger and profits of crab fishing, a plethora of women from all age groups are going ga-ga over captains and deckhands alike.

Ladies, let me tell you something. There is something television – even reality television – cannot convey.

Crab stinks. Bait stinks. Boats stink. Things that rise from the bottom of the ocean stink. Therefore, fishermen stink. That grizzly outdoorsman you first saw on Discovery who has now been cast as the main role in your fantasy? If he were your man, the first sign would be the intermingled smell of diesel, ground herring and old, warm crab entering your front door ten feet ahead of him. Worse, that smell will remain long after he’s returned to his real love – The Bering Sea.

If that doesn’t dissuade you; if you are still waiting and hoping for your ship to come in, I have some advice: make sure you use your own restroom before you leave home.

Imagine. Six men sharing a bathroom; a very small bathroom. Now, imagine those men, sleep deprived and in a nearly hypothermic stupor, trying to aim their manthings at an 18” target while the ship reels up and down, back and forth, in 25 foot seas. It ‘aint pretty. It’s downright scary.

Discovery film crews must do some housekeeping. The galley table on every edition is strangely void of standard commercial fishing vessel contraband. What contraband? The kind that keeps a young man faithful to his girlfriend or wife while they live apart 6-9 months a year: good old porno movies. It isn’t the porn that’s disturbing, it’s that it generally is kept in the common area – the galley table, where the men gather to eat, drink coffee and shoot the shit during the rare break from hauling crab pots. So, if your dream comes true and a burly fisherman invites you for lunch on his vessel, I have this advice: volunteer to wash the galley table. You really never know where it’s been. And, you don’t want to.

If you are still on board, remember, you’ll have to live with another woman – the Sea. She will come first. He’ll run to her when she offers up her profits no matter if you are in the kitchen scrambling eggs or in the delivery room bringing his firstborn into the world. He’ll spend more time with her than you no matter how poorly she treats him, no matter if she causes him physical pain and financial hardship. If you’ve snagged your fisherman hoping someday he’ll get a desk job, put that idea to rest. Once a man has survived his first crab season and returned for another, it is what he will do until the day the Sea has beaten his body into submission or swallowed him for all eternity.

These aren’t the ramblings of a bitter divorcee. The Bering Sea didn’t sink my marriage. I actually liked the lifestyle – and even miss it sometimes. But, I can’t tell you how many times a new deckhand brought his enthusiastic young girlfriend aboard and she’d turn to me and declare “as soon as he saves some money, he’s going to give up fishing and stay home with m-e-e-e.” Those relationships never worked. I have never met a crab fisherman who voluntarily gave up fishing – ever.

So, if a Deadliest Catch groupie is reading this – and hasn’t yet given up the fantasy – good luck to you. I hope your ship comes in. And, if it does, may it travel safely and without incident, especially if one of the men aboard ends up being my son.

Addendum: I wrote this full aware I was avoiding writing the difficult article I need to write – promised to write – about losing The Northwest Mariner and the men aboard her. Sarcasm is easier. Still, look for a tribute post in the near future.
Rhonda Ruminated at 11:45 AM | Permalink |