Treacherous weather, life-and-death decisions, and the sheer white-knuckle power of the Bering Sea have made “Deadliest Catch” a must-watch for any boater seeking serious armchair adventure. For one of the show’s stars, Captain Sig Hansen, the real adventure is not just hunting for king crab through dangerous passages and raging storms. Instead, it’s exploring his industry’s hidden past—and exposing it to the world for the first time.
“There’s only so many crab pots you can pull,” Hansen says. “So now it’s turned into being about the personalities of the captains and crew. It’s a neat little history lesson for the public. For years, this was a very low-key industry. It was almost clannish. Because of ‘Deadliest Catch,’ knowledge is exploding. And when you understand the history of something, you can get a broader perspective than you would ever imagine.”
In fact, despite the best efforts of the Discovery Channel to market him as a modern-day folk hero, Hansen doesn’t think of himself as a pioneering adventurer at all. That honor, he reserves for “the entire generation before me, the guys who went out in the wooden boats, the pioneers who truly risked everything without knowing it.”
Hansen further uncovers the stories of his own heroes in his new book, North by Northwestern: A Seafaring Family on Deadly Alaskan Waters. He calls it a tribute not only to his family, but to all the families of the crews who survived before his on the same unforgiving waters. The book recounts sea stories that even its author never heard before, until he took the time to sit down and ask his family and colleagues about the past, stories that he hopes will capture boaters’ imaginations as much as any adventure he ever has on “Deadliest Catch.”
“I can’t walk more than 20 feet on a goddam boat without somebody stopping me because they recognize me,” he says. “But with the book, this guy came up to me and introduced himself. He shook my hand, and he asked, ‘Will you do me a favor?’ He asked me to sign my book. That, to me, was more important than all the people who try to take my picture because of the TV show. I sincerely hope he reads the book, comes and finds me later, and tells me what he thinks.” -Kim Kavin
Sig Hansen was photographed by Derek Blagg in Ballard, Washington, on May 18, 2010.
Pioneers of Adventure