Deadliest Catch Season 5

Series: Deadliest Catch, Season 5

Deadliest Catch Season 5
Deadliest Catch Season 5

Whenever I’m feeling a bit glum about my desk job, watching some episodes of Deadliest Catch puts things in perspective. Tony and I have worked our way through seasons one, two, three and four, and since season 5 is only 15 episodes (which felt short to me but actually condenses several months’ frenzied fishing activity in wild conditions) we got through it relatively quickly.

Most of the familiar captains from previous seasons return to the Bering Sea (and the Discovery Channel television screens) to fish for Alaskan red king crab and opilio crab during the winter of 2008-2009. Many of them looked somewhat haggard, and as though the lifestyle of sleep deprivation, caffeine and pack after pack of cigarettes was catching up with them. Captain Keith Colburn starts the season waiting for biopsy results, Captain Phil Harris returns to active duty after a serious health scare in the previous year’s king crab season, and it seems that there is an increased awareness of mortality and the brevity of life that pervades the crews of the fleet.

Some of the captains and crew (the Colburn brothers in particular) have serious anger management issues and seem to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation, but all of them are entertaining characters. We loved how Sig Hansen moved the clock back to trick his crew into thinking they’d slept for longer than they had, and seeing the relationship between Captain Phil Harris and his sons (Josh in particular – Jake whined a LOT this season).

The format of the show has not changed since we started watching it, and it works well. The footage is documentary-styled, with a camera man following the crew around on deck while they work, and a camera or two in the wheel house to spy on the captain. There’s very little underwater footage, which (as you’d expect) Tony and I would love to see. There are two or three brief instances when the cameraman suspends the camera into the water next to the pot as it came over the rail, showing the clarity of the water and the rolling of the ship as the pot is pulled onboard. There’s also a hair-raising sequence when Captain Keith dons a drysuit and goes underneath his ship to investigate the sacrificial zinc anode below the waterline that is snagging the rope as his crew pull pots onboard. He pulls himself along beneath the ship on a line strung under the hull, but the rolling of the vessel above him makes for terrifying viewing, and in fact he is clonked on the head quite hard, by the entire ship.

There is quite a lot of US Coastguard footage in this season, with the search for survivors of the Katmai, which capsized during the king crab season, and the Icy Mist, which ran aground during the opilio season during an arctic hurricane. This footage – mostly filmed in and from coastguard helicopters – is gripping, like a real-life version of The Guardian. The addition of the coastguard footage distracts a little from the flow of the crab fishing activity, but vividly presents the dangers inherent in Bering Sea fishing.

I cannot state strongly enough how intense the weather conditions are that these boats (and men) operate in. A particularly bad storm towards the end of the opilio season depicted in this season of the show gave rise to a rash of Mayday and pan-pan calls, but for most ships the struggle to avoid going side-on to the waves was enough to keep their skippers fully occupied – let alone assisting other seamen in distress.

The Arctic ice is also a serious role player in this season, with several vessels getting their gear caught up in the ice. The harbour at St Paul’s Island, where much of the offloading of crab takes place, becomes heavily iced up, forcing the captains to choose between risking losing their crab catch (left too long in the tanks on their boats, the crab dies and becomes worthless) or their boats, by forcing their way through the ice into the harbour. Ice also covers the ships, as when it’s cold enough the spray freezes on the deck, railings and – worst of all – the crab pots stacked on deck. The extra weight makes the ships prone to roll, but it’s a difficult, time consuming, and energy intensive problem to solve. Captain Keith attempted to get his crew to cover the stack of crab pots with a tarpaulin during some of the worst weather of the season, and ended up having to transport three of them to hospital – one with broken ribs, one with a shattered cheekbone, and one with a large hematoma on his eye (and suspected concussion) – after the operation was halted by a rogue wave to the bow.

My favourite parts of this show are the wild sea and weather, the pack ice, seeing the crew knock frozen spray ice off the ship, and the footage of the magnificent Alaskan coastline and Dutch Harbour. I also love listening to the blessing of the fleet, which is performed by a local cleric just before the king crab season starts, and broadcast on the radio so the captains and crews can listen while onboard their ships in the harbour. The fishermen are generally quite spiritual and have a host of superstitions that can seem totally outlandish… Keith Colburn has a walrus obsession (and flipped his lid because no one woke him when a group of walrus swam past the boat), the Hansen brothers bite the head off a herring to start the season, and other captains and crew have other quirky practices to keep them feeling in control of the apparently random act of casting gear into the sea and hoping to catch crab.

The DVD box set is available here if you’re in South Africa, and here if you’re not.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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