Valley man brings in 'deadly catch'
October 2, 2008 · Updated 9:17 AM
Keith Colburn and the crew of his crabbing boat, the Wizard, will play a prominent role this year on the Discovery Channel series "Deadliest Catch," when the reality TV show's fourth season starts on Tuesday, April 15, the veteran captain told the Valley Record in an interview at his Ames Lake home.
"There'll be a lot more Wizard on the show this year, from the beginning all the way through the season," said Colburn, who coaches Fall City Little League when he's not battling the elements in the Bering Sea or signing autographs at promotional and charity events for the TV show.
While contract obligations with Discovery forced Colburn to be a bit tight-lipped about what viewers might see in the Wizard's second season on the show, he did say that extreme weather made for intense drama.
"This year was probably one of the worst I've seen for weather in the last 15 years," he said. "We had severe ice conditions."
The crewmen did their best to quickly haul heavy crab pots while dealing with subzero arctic temperatures, 60-mph winds, turbulent seas with waves the size of four-story buildings, sleep deprivation, and the personality clashes that are inevitable when people live and work together.
Cameras captured the good, the bad and the ugly.
A humbling experience
"You're operating on three hours' sleep for a week straight; you don't look good. It's a humbling experience seeing yourself on TV. I like to watch my guys, but I'm not too interested in watching myself because I look like heck all the time," Colburn said.
The captain was the picture of politeness in his interview with the Valley Record, but that's not the case when he's at sea.
"I'm like Jekyll and Hyde. Once I'm on the boat, I'm a pretty intense person," he said. "My vocabulary slips down to about nine words, and four of them aren't very nice. They'll be working overtime with editing this year."
Having a production crew on board was both rewarding and frustrating for Colburn.
"At times the job can be so monotonous that having extra guys, more personalities on board filming, can be a positive distraction," he said.
One drawback of filming was that Colburn had to worry about protecting the camera crew, who sometimes put themselves in danger trying to get that perfect shot.
"They want to be right next to rail, right in the middle of the red zone, the worst spot on boat, because it's most dramatic shot," he said. "There's times when you can allow them to get the angles, but depending on weather you can't do that.
"We can't afford to head back to Dutch Harbor because a camera guy got taken out by a wave," he said. "There's constantly a bit of a battle there trying to keep the camera crew from getting too agressive in how they're filming."
Colburn also tired of the constant interviews and filming.
"There's times when you just don't want a camera in your face," he said, admitting to losing his cool with the cameraman. "I've gone way past the 'could you please turn it off' mode."
Despite the challenges of production, Colburn said portrayals were fair, and made for great TV.
"They captured the boat, and myself and the guys just as who we are," he said. "And I think they did a good job capturing how big the Bering Sea can be."
While life-and-death drama has made "Deadliest Catch" Discovery's highest-rated show, it's simply a way of life for Colburn, who quit his restaurant job in Lake Tahoe in 1985 to see if he could make his fortune crabbing in Alaska.
"I went up there on a whim," he said. "In the late '70s there was a king-crab boom in the Bering Sea. You heard these stories of phenomenal amounts of money these guys would make fishing crab."
His very first day on deck, he was almost pulled overboard after getting tangled up in some line. Though Colburn was saved by another crewman, who jumped on top of him, he took a beating and learned a lesson that day.
"It was having a few thousand pounds of pressure trying to yank you over the side from one leg. You're off balance. Your head's thrown back. You're smashed up against the rail. That was right-out-of-the-gate strong reinforcement that it's a dangerous job," he said.
Colburn was hooked. He joined the crew of the Wizard in 1988, and worked his way up to captain within seven years. He and his wife Florence bought the vessel in 2005.
Home away from home
Originally built in 1945 for use by the U.S. Navy in World War II, the Wizard mothballed for years in Boston harbor and briefly hauled molasses before it was converted into a crabber in 1978. At 155 feet by 30 feet, the Wizard is one of the larger crabbers on the Bering, and lends itself well to TV production.
Technology makes it possible for Colburn to speak daily with his wife and children, Caelen and Sienna, who might appear on the show.
"There's a good chance my daughter and son might be on TV this year, which for me would be very exciting. For my daughter, it will be overwhelming," he said, adding that the Fall City Elementary student is "pretty shy."
During the several months a year when Colburn is away from his family, he gets close to his crew.
"If you have the right group of guys, it's like a team or family. The interaction isn't all work, work, work. Guys are doing whatever they can to lighten whatever they're doing all day," he said.
That involves the occasional prank on other crews. Expect to see more gags on the show