Series: Deadliest Catch, Season 7

Deadliest Catch, Season 7
Deadliest Catch, Season 7

Deadliest Catch is a long-running reality television series aired on the Discovery Channel. We watch it on DVD. The seventh season once again reminded us how fortunate we are to have jobs with at least some concept of “office hours”, and safe, mostly predictable working conditions. Season 6 was marked by the death of one of the captains, Phil Harris, whose two young sons, Jake and Josh, are left as part-owners of the vessel Cornelia Marie. The conflicts inherent in being both a boat owner and a deckhand are shown in technicolour as they clash with the captain they hire for the red king crab/blue crab season, and after catching no crab in a week, they head back to port. Their opilio season is a lot more successful, and the captain they hire for this fishing stint spends time teaching them and gives them opportunities to drive the boat and make decisions about where to fish.

A similar spirit of mentorship is seen on the Northwestern, where Captain Sig invests considerable time and effort into one of his young deckhands, also called Jake. His brother Edgar, erstwhile deck boss, has left the ship, but we were surprised how well things continued to run without his laconic presence. Jake, who is occasionally prone to bizarre immature outbursts (“I hate you all!” is a frequent refrain) is groomed to one day run the ship – he has been on the Northwestern for several years – and Sig somehow manages to strike the right mix of encouragement and discipline, giving Jake more and more responsibility for the day to day running of the deck, allowing him to set pots, and to drive the boat on occasion.

Two new boats feature in this season, both captained by young men (one still in his late twenties) with a good deal of attitude and cockiness. One of them (Captain Scott “Junior” Campbell) makes a really good showing, and we were impressed by how he managed his layabout younger brother. His calm demeanour was in stark contrast to Captain Keith Colburn of the Wizard, whose anger management problems even vented themselves on one of the show’s cameramen who happened to be walking past when the fishing was poor.

Other than the two new boats, this season is more of the same, and if you enjoyed the prior seasons I can recommend this one. We did appreciate a few more underwater shots and what looked like footage captured by attaching a GoPro to the hook that the crew use to retrieve the line attached to the submerged crab pots. There isn’t much from the US Coastguard, but there are truly awesome Arctic storms and some very gory (but not serious) injuries. I expect most people will wince the most at the sight of Captain Scott struggling with a kidney stone!

There’s a very interesting interview with the impressive captain of the Northwestern, Sig Hansen, here.

You can buy the DVDs here if you’re in South Africa, and here if you’re not.


Series: Whale Wars, Season 2

Whale Wars Season 2
Whale Wars Season 2

Tony and I devoured Season 1 of Whale Wars, and moved straight on to Season 2. The series chronicles the annual efforts of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to stop the Japanese whale hunt in the Southern Ocean. The Japanese claim that taking whales for research is legal, and the Sea Shepherds swear it is not (and apart from that, object to the killing of whales in any context).

The Japanese claim that they need to harvest 900-1,000 whales for lethal research, carried out under the auspices of their Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR). After doing the research, the Japanese pretend to eat the whales. Actually whale meat is not popular food any more in Japan, partly because of its content of toxic chemicals, but apparently it’s culturally important to have a lot of it available. Amusingly, the ICR website is devoted largely to explaining how much research is done (five papers per year after killing 1,000 whales seems a bit paltry), but very little in the way of facts and actual research results. There is also a massive section containing video footage of “harrassment and terrorism” – namely Sea Shepherd’s activities around the Japanese fleet.

The Sea Shepherds use their vessel, the Steve Irwin, to pursue the Japanese whaling fleet (three harpoon ships, a factory ship, a spotting ship and a supply ship), and to interfere with their activities. In the first season of Whale Wars, tossing smelly and slippery chemicals and attempting to deploy prop foulers was sufficient to keep the whalers on the run and not fishing.

During the whaling season depicted in this season, however, two things combine to make their task almost impossible. One is that the Dutch government, under whose flag the Steve Irwin sails, instructed the Sea Shepherds that they could not throw anything from the deck of the ship, but they had to launch the RIBs and operate from the smaller boats if they wanted to toss chemicals or other items at the Japanese. The second obstacle was that the Japanese equipped their vessels with high pressure water hoses, stern lines (to foul propellors), and hanging nets protecting the deck from hurled bottles of butyric acid. The result is a number of fruitless attempts to interfere with the massive factory ship (the Nisshin Maru) from the tiny rubber ducks, which are just too small to allow the throwers to get anything over its bow. The sides and rear of the ship were protected by nets and hoses.

Several aggressive confrontations with the whaling fleet are shown – an almost disastrous foray deep into the ice, and high seas manoeuvering reminiscent of what you’d see in Master and Commander take place. The Japanese fleet engages the Steve Irwin repeatedly, pursuing her and – in a reversal of roles – keeping the Sea Shepherds on the run.

It is in the final few episodes of the season that the Sea Shepherds engage most aggressively (and, they felt, successfully) with the whalers. This culminated in the Steve Irwin ramming one of the harpoon ships as she transferred a whale to the factory ship. There are photos here, and video footage here and here. This action, apart from angering the Japanese, causing a mini diplomatic crisis, and damaging the Sea Shepherd boat, did not actually prevent anything from happening that wouldn’t have otherwise. In contrast to previous years, the Japanese fleet simply continued with their whale hunt as if the Sea Shepherds were not there.

The whaling process was largely unseen in the first season, but this time the Sea Shepherd’s helicopter pilot witnesses the slaughter of a whale and it is captured on film. It’s awful – first the whale is chased until exhausted (unable to take enough deep breaths to dive while being pursued), and then shot in the spine with a harpoon the size of an artillery cannon. Multiple shots to its head with a rifle, and then a slow (25 minute) drowning in its own blood while attached to the harpoon complete the process. It is simply not possible to kill an animal this size humanely and it was horrible to watch. The carcass is tied to the railing of the harpoon ship and taken to the factory ship for slicing and packaging.

We found this very entertaining and thought provoking, and (one of the eleven episodes, in which the whale hunt is shown from beginning to end) very upsetting. (There is a warning at the start of episode ten not to watch if you’re a sensitive viewer.)

You can buy the DVD set here if you’re South African, and here or here otherwise.

Series: Whale Wars

Whale Wars
Whale Wars

Whale Wars is an Animal Planet series that follows Captain Paul Watson and the crew of the Steve Irwin, a Sea Shepherd Conservation Society vessel, as they attempt to interfere with the activities of Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean. Sea Shepherd is described in the series as a “rival conservation agency” (kind of like a rival shark conservationist… bleugh!) to Greenpeace, of which Paul Watson was one of the founders (according to himself, but not according to Greenpeace – you be the judge). He was later expelled from Greenpeace after disagreements on tactics.

While Greenpeace are described by one of the Sea Shepherd crew as engaging in “ocean posturing” – getting themselves photographed, and taking pictures of whales and “raising awareness” – Sea Shepherd are aggressive and confrontational, using physical means (nonviolent, but the definition of violence is fluid) to prevent the Japanese whalers from continuing with their activities. They throw smelly and slippery chemicals at the whaling vessels, attempt to foul their propellers with ropes (Tony was desperate to see this succeed – four failed attempts later and he’s still hoping).

The seven episodes of Whale Wars season 1 follow two voyages of several months by the Steve Irwin. Her crew is largely made up of untrained (and pretty clueless, by the looks of things) volunteers – of the nearly 40 people on board, only five seemed to know anything about ships, strategy, planning and life at sea. They don’t really know each other, either, making teamwork tricky and outright dangerous. The hazard of this is immediately apparent. In one early episode, while launching a rubber duck off the side of the Steve Irwin using a crane, one of the supposedly very experienced crew allows the nose of the boat to drift out at an angle while it was in the water next to the main ship, instead of keeping it perpendicular to the direction of motion (and the swells). Almost immediately the rubber duck is swamped and overturned, dumping its four crew into the freezing water. Turning the ship and rescuing them is a mammoth task. During this fiasco another crew member gets over-enthusiastic and damages a rotor blade of the Sea Shepherd helicopter, which is used to track the whalers at a distance. Later in the series the rubber duck crew set off at dusk without any communication equipment, in the wrong direction. The man in charge (Captain Watson was asleep) vacillates and ums and aahs, refusing to initiate a search. He feels vindicated when the crew of the RIB returns safely, but it is a classic case of evaluating a probabilistic decision on its outcome rather than on the thought process behind it.

Captain Watson doesn’t issue many orders. It’s often repeated that the hierarchical structure on board the ship means that he can devote his energy to strategising rather than giving commands. That said, I did not like his leadership style at all. In one instance, he wants his crew to launch the RIB at night and go on a risky mission to harrass a Japanese spy ship that has been tailing the Steve Irwin. He refuses, however, to issue an order to that effect, saying the crew must decide. When they decide not to, he humiliates them and ultimately manipulates them into going. In the event that the mission had gone wrong (a broken crane stopped it in the early stages), he would have been able to abdicate responsibility for the poor outcome because he hadn’t ordered it directly.

While much of the series documents the crew injuring themselves and each other and damaging their equipment, it concludes with a very satisfying pursuit of the factory ship where dead whales are processed and packaged for shipment to Japan. This enormous vessel exudes menace and has daunting dimensions, meaning that instead of using the RIBs, the Steve Irwin must approach her directly in order to harrass her.

Captain Watson plays the media like a violin, calling them every time the Japanese do anything and making sure to put his own spin on every incident. In the final episode of the season he finds a bullet in the bullet proof vest he was wearing, but seemed to play this down after initially claiming he was shot at by someone on the Japanese ship. The absence of entry marks on the clothing he was wearing above the vest was a little suspicious, to my mind.

I was very worried that we’d see a lot of dead and dying whales in this show. Fortunately the only actual whaling one sees is part of a clip that is played in the opening credits illustrating what the Japanese whalers do and how they claim that their activities are for research. Their whaling boats have RESEARCH written on them in large letters (in English). When the Sea Shepherd crew are doing what they come to Antarctica to do, no whaling takes place.

It’s wildly entertaining television that also left us thinking afterwards. I found it hard to form firm opinions on what the Sea Shepherd activists were doing, because I wasn’t sure whether they were demonstrating admirably strong convictions, or whether they had moved into a realm of fanaticism, beyond logic. I couldn’t decide whether risking their lives (often simply as a result of poor planning, poor training and disorganisation) on behalf of whales was noble, or reckless stupidity. Not everyone on board the Steve Irwin was there for the same reason – some love whales and believe that every single cetacean life is sacred, while others simply want an adventure.

Here’s a critical perspective on the show. It’s fascinatingly polarising, even if you do love whales and don’t want to see them killed under the pretext of scientific research.

You can buy the DVD set here or here.

Series: Shark Week featuring Mythbusters – Jaws Special (Disc 2)

Shark Week
Shark Week

Shark Week features annually on the Discovery Channel. It’s been condemned for taking a sensationalist approach to sharks and shark attacks, but Tony and I loved the Air Jaws episodes produced by our own Chris Fallows of Cape Town. This two-DVD set is season 4 of Shark Week screened in 2005 (the 30th anniversary of the release of Jaws), and features a range of programs all about sharks.

I reviewed the first disc of this special in this post. Here are brief reviews of the features on Disc 2 of the DVD set.

Mythbusters: Jaws Special

I actually hadn’t watched Mythbusters until this particular show, so I was pleasantly surprised and amused. It’s basically two grown men (one with seriously foppish fashion sense) and sundry irritating hangers-on, blowing things up, building contraptions and using large machinery for inappropriate projects. The hosts are special effects designers so they have a huge workshop with every imaginable gadget at their disposal.

In this episode, they investigate some aspects of the movie Jaws, including the incidents concerning the strength of the shark (towing a boat backwards, submerging air-filled plastic barrels for hours on end, and blasting through a shark cage and then – later – through the side of a boat). They also investigate whether sharks are deterred by punches (slightly, as our own experience attests) and what happens to a scuba cylinder when you fire a gun at it.

If you don’t want to know the results of these experiments, stop reading now.

They found that while a shark could conceivably pull three plastic barrels underwater briefly, it couldn’t hold them there. It also could not tow the boat backwards fast enough to cause waves to break over the stern. It is possible, however, for a great white shark to break a shark cage, and also to make a (small) hole in the side of a (flimsy) wooden boat.

Sharks don’t like to be punched, particularly in the soft parts (gills and eyes), but, as the Mythbusters pointed out, if you’re being munched and your fists are your only weapon, then you’re going to want to use them regardless of how effective they’ll be.

Tony’s and my primary interest was in the exploding scuba cylinder (in the movie, this is how the shark is finally vanquished). After multiple layers of safety precautions, they fire a rifle point-blank into first an empty cylinder, to see whether the bullet can penetrate 2 inches of aluminium (it can), and then into a fully charged one. The entire experiment was done inside a shipping container, with the gun remotely operated.

The results were interesting: the pressurised cylinder did not explode, but took off like a rocket as the air was released through the small hole. It whizzed about inside the shipping container, denting the walls, until the air pressure inside the cylinder was equal to the air pressure outside. We could see how a cylinder having its pillar valve knocked off while in transit could turn it into a lethal weapon. The compressed air has considerable explosive power.

Shark After Dark

One has incredibly mixed feelings watching these Shark Week specials. The narration and music are all testosterone-filled, fear-inducing and press the same buttons that Jaws the movie pushes. The resources – time, camera equipment, and so on – that gets thrown at the subject, however, is awe-inspiring and one can only hope that some of the footage obtained is of value to science.

The first half of Sharks After Dark features our homeboy Chris Fallows, of Apex Predators and Air Jaws fame. He guides a film crew as they spend time on a boat off Seal Island at night, hoping to determine how active white sharks are at night. I spent the first few minutes rolling my eyes vigorously – lots of loud and vacuous American speculation in sweeping terms with no reference to the available scientific knowledge on shark sensory organs – but the eye rolling ceased when the team actually obtained footage (and Chris Fallows some incredible still photos) of white sharks breaching after seals while it was still dark. My curiosity about the water around Seal Island was also satisfied when Fallows and a cameraman got into the shallow water (about 1.5 metres deep) around the island where the seals congregate, and dived with them for a while. Let’s just say that the water clarity confirmed one’s suspicions that all that seal poop has to go somewhere!

The second section of the program dealt with bluntnose sixgill sharks – which strongly resemble “our” broadnose sevengill cowsharks here in the Cape (and are in fact also found along the Kwazulu-Natal and West Coast of South Africa, but not in Cape waters), in Puget Sound south of Seattle in the USA. These sharks live at great depths (more than 100 metres), but come into shallower water (20 metres or less) at night, in order to feed. They are dark coloured like basking sharks or the Greenland shark, and the divers and cameraman descended into a cage at 20 metres, above a fairly featureless sandy bottom. The sharks are quite sluggish, like their sevengill cousins, but can put on a burst of speed when it is required.

The final section of the program deals with sand tiger sharks (grey nurse sharks) at the North Carolina Aquarium. These sharks resemble the ragged tooth sharks on display at the Two Ocean Aquarium in Cape Town, and this may be no coincidence. Raggies were chosen for the aquarium here because of their placid natures and “sharky” appearance, which challenges one’s preconceptions of sharks when viewing them swimming calmly around their tank. The aquarists feed the sand tigers at night, in order to see whether they will eat at night (they will), and then the camera crew climb into the tank with lights on, and then with the lights off. The sharks’ behaviour was the same.

A sunken coastguard cutter serves as home to sand tiger sharks in the open ocean off North Carolina (what beautiful visibility!) and the team visits the wreck, which lies at about 30 metres’ depth, to see the sharks in the wild. Noticeably more twitchy than the sharks in the aquarium setting, the sharks come close (and closer at night) but turn on a dime and swim away very fast when they’ve come close enough. It is during a night dive on the wreck that the divers observe the sand tigers feeding.

During the preceding few sections the narrator goes a bit quiet and one can forget the stupid Shark Week tabloid tone that pervades so many of these shows. The final section of the program, unfortunately, brings back the sleaze with a vengeance, taking the crew to dive with FIFTY (can you IMAGINE! OMG!) lemon sharks, and attempting to hand feed these “bad tempered predators” that have been implicated in many “attacks on humans”. The eye rolling resumed when one of the dewy-eyed camera-toting token chicks whimpered “I didn’t know if they were going to tear me apart!” That evening, with the “water churning with teeth and fins”, the team attempts to hand feed the lemon sharks (and a tiger shark) once again.

The show concludes (mercifully) with the presenter commenting that it doesn’t seem that humans are on the menu, and that sharks are pretty good at reading the menu whether it’s day or night time.

Shark Bite Summer

This bit of fluff describes the “summer of the shark” in 2001, along the west coast of the USA. Replete with staged attack footage, seas awash with blood, and prurient narration, this is shark attack porn of the worst kind. I confess I couldn’t finish watching it, but suffice it to say that a large quantity of red corn syrup went into the making of this program. It is this kind of trash that unfortunately undoes any good that comes of showing sharks in their natural habitat. Alas.

You can get the DVD here.

Series: Deadliest Catch, Season 6

Deadliest Catch Season 6
Deadliest Catch Season 6

Tony and I continue to feed our strange addiction to this Discovery Channel show. We found Season 5 to be dark and grim. Deadliest Catch Season 6 deals with even heavier subject matter, but somehow manages to uplift one at the same time. If you haven’t seen the series and plan to, and don’t know what happens, you probably shouldn’t read any further.

The usual ingredients are all there: foul-mouthed crab fishermen, rough seas, ice, snow, sleet, storms, and huge pots of beautiful, valuable Alaskan red king crabs and opilio crabs. The core group of captains still feature – Sig Hansen of the Northwestern, the Hillstrand brothers of the Time Bandit, and Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie. The mercurial and superstitious Keith Colburn of the Wizard returns in this season, and newcomer Captain Bill Wichrowski of the Kodiak attempts to make a crab fishing comeback after years out of the game.

To a certain extent the personal dramas overshadow some of the fishing activity, which is mixed for all the captains. The father of one of the crew members of the Northwestern goes missing, and the emotional strain of trying to support his family and the feeling of helplessness at not being in Seattle to assist with the search plays out in the young man’s mind. His experience is mirrored by that of the Harris brothers, whose father Phil has a stroke during the offloading of opilio crab and is hospitalised in Anchorage, Alaska.

Eleven days later he succumbs to another stroke, and the Cornelia Marie loses her captain. One of the joys of this series has been watching Phil Harris and his sons together – as a fisherman he spent months on end away from home when they were children, and he clearly relished the time he spent with them working as deckhands on his boat. His send-off by the captains of the other vessels in the fleet were very special – ranging from fireworks on the Time Bandit, to Captain Keith – choked up with tears – dropping a full crab pot overboard, with no lines or buoys attached and a buoy inside with Phil Harris’s name on it – so that Phil would always have a full pot to come back to.

The final episode of the season is a tribute to Captain Phil Harris. He’s held up as someone who lived the American dream – making his way from hardscrabble beginnings, through labour with his hands, to a position of commercial success. It’s has fascinating parallels to the Hillstrand brothers’ life story, as told in their book Time Bandit. The back-breaking work on fishing boats was often followed by days of wild partying, and the large amounts of money that can be made by crab fishermen were not always spent wisely. The long periods of absence from home caused strain in relationships, and the primary regrets that fishing fathers seem to have is that they “weren’t there for their kids”. Edgar Hansen, deck boss of the Northwestern, has his own existential (and physical – he has chronic back pain from years of work on deck) crisis for the duration of this season, and attempts more than once to signal to his older brother Sig that his time as a fisherman is drawing to a close. Sig is not receptive to these signals.

While it’s hard not to get caught up in the personal struggles of the fishermen, Tony and I do love most of all the sea and the boats. Footage of Captain Bill fishing up near the ice floes is spectacular, and we were happy to see that the producers experimented a tiny bit more with the camera work this season. GoPro cameras were used strapped to crewmen’s heads, the picking hook, and (we suspect) to obtain some other brief underwater footage of pots being hauled over the rail. Occasional use of CGI illustrates concepts such as the buoy configuration for fishing in the ice, and the problems caused by frozen or leaky hydraulic lines, along with the interconnectedness of the systems on the vessel that rely on these lines.

You can get the DVD box set here if you are in South Africa, and here if you’re not.

Friday poem: I’ve fished a place

This poem was read over the closing credits of the final episode of Deadliest Catch Season 5, by its author – Larry Ryser, the deckboss of the crab boat Incentive. I recommend you listen to Larry reading it himself – he has a wonderful voice and inflection.


I’ve Fished a Place – Larry Ryser

I’ve fished a place like no other place
You’ll ever find on Earth.
A place where the hard work and danger
Can, and should, reflect a man’s worth.

I’ve finished a place where the hours are long;
Sleep, rare, if at all.
A place where even the strong
Sometimes stumble and fall.

I’ve fished a place where you spend countless hours
Pulling countless pots.
A place where the memory of her back home
Is thought with countless thoughts.

I’ve fished a place where the weather can turn
Bad in the blink of an eye.
A place where there are those who’ll get hurt,
And some will even die.

I love this place
And the pride it’s given me. You see,
Very few people on the face of this earth can say,
“I’ve fished the Bering Sea.”

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.

Series: Deadliest Catch, Season 4

Deadliest Catch Season 4
Deadliest Catch Season 4

The fourth season of Deadliest Catch (we’ve watched Seasons 1, 2 and 3) was quite harrowing – far more serious and, for want of a better word, consequential, than the first three. For one thing, the weather that the fishermen had to deal with was insane… Week after week of pounding waves, ice on the boats, and sub zero temperatures. I still can’t get my head around the physical demands that this job places on the men who do it.

There seemed to be more accidents and near misses (or at least, accidents and near misses caught on camera) – unsecured pots flying off the launcher, Johnathan Hillstrand of the Time Bandit hitting himself in the face with the picking hook, greenhorns falling all over the place, and the incredibly bad tempered Keith Colburn of the Wizard falling every single time he ventured out on deck.

There also seemed to be a lot more humour. Edgar Hansen of the Northwestern spends four hours preparing a prank on his brother Captain Sig, which fails to trick him but caused us much mirth. There are also a couple of montages of tomfoolery – one inspired by the lack of sleep that the fishermen endure.

The opilio crab season was a bit emotional and draining to watch, as Captain Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie became ill – it later turned out, with a pulmonary embolism – and was forced to leave his boat and go to hospital, where he remained for the rest of the season. Tony and I are quite fond of Captain Phil, and have enjoyed seeing his two sons, Jake and Josh, interact with their father and develop as crab fishermen on board his boat. By the final episode Phil is out of hospital but not out of the woods.

There are only one or two items on our wishlist for the show (and I know that us having one is kind of silly, as the rest of the world is already on Season 7)… But chief among them are some underwater shots – what does the sea floor look like? How do the crabs move about? What does it look like as they climb into a pot?

And, at the end of the season, when the boats motor down to offload their crab, what have they done with the pots? They all have empty decks. Then, right at the end of the season, all the pots are back on board. Is this just aggressive editing? We have seen some of that – miraculous growth and re-growth of a beard in between bouts of clean shaven-ness, apparently during a single conversation, for example!

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

Christmas gift guide 2011

It’s that time of year again. I trust you are all feeling suitably festive. Here’s our annual (well, second so far) Christmas gift guide. Use it/don’t use it…


For the reader, you could check out our book reviews, arranged by topic:

There are also a couple of children’s books to consider.

Dive gear

Check out What’s in My Dive Bag for some ideas… You can contact Andre for most of these:

Probably not a good idea to get a mask unless the place you buy it will let the person exchange it if it doesn’t fit!


For the person who has everything, or just because you’re feeling grateful:


Don’t forget to add a memory card for the lucky recipient’s camera if you plan to gift any of these!

For those who need (or like) to relax

Magazine subscriptions

Wall art

Clip Clop designs and prints beautiful tide charts for Cape Town and Durban and moon phase charts for the year. You can order online or find them at Exclusive Books.

Series: Deadliest Catch, Season 3

Deadliest Catch Season 3
Deadliest Catch Season 3

I’m still completely addicted to this show. After wishing for more underwater footage after Season 2, we were rewarded with a ten second shot of a crab pot lying on the Bering seafloor, surrounded by sea pens and mud. We could still do with more. This season features some epic weather – ten plus metre waves breaking over the boats, colossal storms, and thick pack ice that threatens to crush one of the vessels.

There are US Coastguard rescues and high drama at sea. The boats are plagued with mechanical breakdowns, and we get to see a bit of drysuit diving in Dutch Harbour in order to clear fouled propellors and replace broken ones.

There’s also a bit more humour, fighting and honest interaction – I think some of the captains and crew are loosening up a bit toward the cameras at this stage. This season follows two greenhorn crew members in particular – one a 40-something year old professional rodeo rider who barely lasts 24 hours of the two week Opilio crab season, despite being an all-round tough guy. His meltdown is spectacular. The physicality and mental strength required to do this job is something else.

Tony and I missed Hiram Johnson, a crazy-eyed crewmember of one of the boats who featured in both of the first two seasons and came up with gems like the fact that he never has woman problems because he buys his ladies! There are a couple of new boats in this season, a couple of new crewmembers on the existing boats, but for the most part there’s continuity. We enjoy Edgar Hansen (on the cover of the DVD box set) and his dry, brutal humour, his genius captain brother Sig on the Northwestern, and the Harris family (Captain Phil and his two sons) on the Cornelia Marie. The Hillstrand brothers on the Time Bandit are also full of character, with Johnathan laughing like a pirate at every opportunity.

I am impressed by the Alaskan crab fisheries. The primary ones covered in Deadliest Catch are Alaskan Red King Crab and Opilio or Tanner crab. There’s almost no bycatch – a couple of codfish here and there, which are promptly repurposed for bait. It’s clearly a heavily regulated industry – the Alaskan Department of Fish and Game dishes out quotas according to abundance estimates and closes the fishing season if the quotas have been met.

I am also impressed by the US Coastguard, who hold pre-emptive drills on all the boats before they are allowed to set out. The men must demonstrate their prowess donning a survival suit, and respond to a simulated fire or other emergency on board the ship. There’s also a LOT of paperwork.

I think we enjoyed this season most out of the three we’ve watched so far – the show keeps improving.

The DVD box set is available here. If you’re not in South Africa, you can purchase a copy here.