Original air date: April 3, 2007
The boats prepare for the start of the king crab season. On board the Cornelia Marie, last season’s greenhorn, Jake Harris, got a promotion to deckhand; the vessel’s new greenhorn is Joshua Harris, Jake’s older brother and Phil’s eldest son. The new hand on board the Northwestern is Stan Hansen, cousin to the Hansen brothers; meanwhile, the Farwest Leader brings Ragnhild Moncrief, the captain’s wife, aboard as their new greenhorn/cook/den mother. The Maverick is now under Blake Painter’s control, and his crew is virtually all friends of his who are King-crab greenhorns, with only one experienced deck hand acting as Deck Boss. The crews go shopping for their season’s crew provisions, spending around $5500 each trip. At the pre-season captains’ dinner, Johnathan Hillstrand proposed a derby-style competition between the boats: Fewest number of pots needed to pull 100,000 pounds of crab. Sig Hansen upped the ante by proposing each captain kick in $100 for the prize to be given to the winner, and the UniSea Bar agreed to safeguard the $900 bounty. After dinner, the Hansen brothers decided to initiate the first pranks of the season by leaving a bag of bait fish under the Captain’s chair on board the Maverick. The Cornelia Marie left Dutch Harbor hoping to catch a break between two storms, leaving the other boats to ride out the storms tied to the dock. The Northwestern tried a new strategy of more and bigger crab pots, carrying 150 pots on the initial trip out to the grounds, then returning to Dutch Harbor for 150 more pots afterwards as a way of capturing their very large quota shares at a faster pace. Several captains explained their strategies for setting crab pots in the Bering Sea—Sig Hansen looks at history, checks the official Alaska Fish and Game reports, then sets test pots for long soaks and evaluates patterns of crab caught in the test pots; Wizard Captain Keith Colburn tries to determine the best balance between history and state reports, noting that many captains spend time “chasing last year’s crab” and not enough time doing test pot launching and trend watching; Cornelia Marie Captain Phil Harris noted that when the water is warmer, crabs move northward, but when the water is colder overall, crabs tend to stay in the shallows and it can be hard to determine how shallow is too shallow. Rookie Captain Blake Painter of the Maverick, who had been very confident during the captains’ dinner about being able to find the crab on his own, became indecisive about where to drop his pots once the Maverick reached the fishing grounds and spent most of the first day out at sea “radio crabbing”—calling other captains on the radio for tips on where they were finding crab—which annoyed several of the veterans who had cautioned Blake against this very thing. During the first night, the Ocean Challenger capsized and put out a distress call, and by dawn, only one of the four crewmembers was found in a survival suit.