The toughest/craziest/bravest effin’ fishermen on the high seas are back for a fifth season as Deadliest Catch premieres tonight at 9 PM ET on the Discovery Channel. We’re celebrating the return of our favorite reality show by talking with the man at the helm of the Northwestern, Captain Sig Hansen. Learn how this Seattle-based badass survives the brutal Bering Sea, overcomes sleep deprivation, and relaxes with Desperate Housewives.
Did you ever imagine Deadliest Catch would be this popular?
Absolutely not. It was supposed to be a documentary for the first year, and it just kept snowballing.
I’ve noticed that you guys pull marathon hours when you’re out at sea. What’s the longest you’ve been awake?
Over three days.
How do you do that? What’s the trick?
It’s just determination.
Yeah, a lot of coffee, chocolate, and cigarettes.
When do you decide that enough is enough and you’ve got to sleep?
You start hallucinating. (Laughs) It depends and if you know that bad weather is coming in, you do whatever. But, our goal is to have a steady schedule; it just doesn’t happen all the time.
You mentioned hallucinating. What’s the craziest shit you’ve seen?
I remember when I was a kid, I was a deckhand. A guy woke me up for a watch, and I’d been up for I don’t know how long. When you take a watch, and it’s a four-man deck, everybody takes an hour. I was the second watch. In other words, I had slept for an hour and he puts me up in the wheelhouse, and I was hallucinating...I thought I was on another boat with another captain. It didn’t make sense to me. I saw two images on the radar and it looked like 10 because the crab lights were glistening in the windows. I did that for about an hour. I didn’t realize where I was.
When you call a life insurance company, do they hang up on you immediately?
Oh no, we can get life insurance. The boat has us covered that way. There’s no retirement for a fisherman.
How many times during your fishing career have you truly been concerned for your life?
A couple, three times.
Tell me about the worst.
We had the boat iced down so bad that we had three- to four-foot thick ice around the boat. We took this wave, and the bow had become this iceberg. The boat was sinking. I had water up to the wheelhouse windows. She was going down nose first. I just floored it and turned it hard over. When the next wave hit me, it turned the boat to the side and washed all the water out, and she slowly came back. It took us 18 hours to get the ice off the boat.
Do you ever have a greenhorn on board that just completely loses his shit?
How do you handle that?
(Evil laugh) I don’t. It’s too bad for them.
So, the Alaskan king crab is your big haul, right?
Yeah, we’ve done a half-million dollars in 80 hours. It’s about five dollars a pound, so if I fill my boat it’s about a one million dollar load. Then I’ve gone for a couple of months where we ended up in the hole. I have had it where everybody had to chip in $3,000 because we used fuel, bait, and food, and we made it up the next season.
You obviously have some deal with the Discovery Channel. Is that a lucrative thing for you guys?
After five years they pay us a little bit of money, but let’s put it this way, I’ve kicked them off twice. So if it was that lucrative, I wouldn’t be kicking them off my boat.
I can’t imagine having cameras in my face while I’m out there.
It’s not easy. They change out the cameramen all the time and you get these news guys who are just a pain in the ass because they want to keep the show fresh. But every time I get new guys it’s like we’re back in basic training, and you have to get along with these assholes for a couple of months.
Do the show’s producers ever want to change things up? Like maybe bring hot girls onto the show. It seems like a prime spot for a wet T-shirt contest.
(Laughs) No, that’s why we get into our battles because they want to film so much. You’re so used to having the boat to yourself and now you’ve got to share it with these guys. It might be 2, 3 or 4 in the morning and you’ve been working a day or two, and then they’ve got all these questions and you’re like, “Just leave me alone.”
Off-camera, do all the captains really get along? You seem to have a real camaraderie when you’re on-camera, all together.
Like Phil (Harris, of the Cornelia Maria), we’ve known each other for years. But once you’re fishing, the gloves come off. I wouldn’t trust Phil as far as I could throw him. When we’re fishing we’re going to lie. I’m going to lie to him. And when you get to town you have a drink, that’s great. And we’re friends.
I got to see a peek at this upcoming season, and you guys even mention it in the show that you all seem to be incredibly unhealthy for the most part. Have you ever thought of about an easier profession?
(Laughs) Unhealthy? Fuck you. Yeah, but if you don’t know anything else, what are you going to do? You don’t plan on flipping burgers for the rest of your life. This is all I’ve done since I was 13 years old.
Can you give us a scoop on what’s coming up this season?
You just don’t know what’s going to happen, from year to year. It’s always different. This year was to the extreme n-th degree because of the ice. We had so much ice coming down from Russia that the weather bureau hadn’t seen that in 30 years.
How long do see the show going? It’s still very popular.
It’s their No. 1 show. Let me put it this way, when we first did it, I’ve been there the longest, I got a lot of flak from the fleet. They thought we were a sell-out. Now, a lot of fishermen see that it’s beneficial. They see that the price of crab has stabilized and because of the show we sell more crab and that’s a good thing. Now a lot of these guys we were getting in fights with at the bar are fighting to get on the show.
Is there anything about yourself that people would be surprised to know?
We were out drinking last night; people would come up, “Oh, Captain Sig, yada, yada.” We start talking and they ask what shows I like. And my wife got me hooked on Desperate Housewives and Dancing with the Stars. They perceive you as this big, tough fisherman. Well, I’m a little guy, for one. And being a tough fisherman, all it takes is a lot of heart and that’s it. So when I told them I watch Housewives and Dancing with the Stars these fucking guys hit the floor rolling.