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Phil Harris

Lessons From Captain Phil Harris (1956-2010)

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The adventurers of the world lost a friend and colleague last week with the untimely death of Captain Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie.  We got to know him through Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch.  I have a deep respect for all the fishermen up in Alaska.  They work long hours in the sub-freezing cold and perform a job that could literally kill them. I particularly enjoyed Phil because of his honesty and his heart.

There’s a proverb at Dutch Harbor: “Live for today. Tomorrow may never come.”  Captain Phil is proof of that.  The passion with which he lived his life inspired me to write a top five list of the lessons we can learn from Phil’s zealous but too-short life.

#5  Rock On With Your Quirky Self.
Captain Phil was a superstitious man.  He never left the harbor on a Friday.  He blew up his main engine twice when he tried to leave on a Friday.  He also wouldn’t shave while he was fishing, claiming it was bad luck.

Captain Phil also had a theory about how to find the crab: He looked for fart bubbles.  He said that crabs are “farting little machines.”  His technique was look for “fart bubbles” and a noxious stench in the air.  Apparently it worked.

#4  Protect Your Crew.
Captain Phil was extremely protective of his crew, especially his two sons.  During Season Four, his health was potentially in jeopardy.  He was literally coughing up blood, yet he kept fishing for days before seeking medical attention.  Although he allowed the camera crew to film his symptoms, he wouldn’t let his crew or kids know how badly he was doing.  It’s well known that crew members don’t pick their boat, they pick the captain.  They literally trust their captain with their lives.  You could tell how devoted his crew was to him.  It was a direct result of how devoted he was to them.

#3  Look Out For The Little Guy.
During Season 5, a baby-faced cameraman named Josh was assigned to the Cornelia Marie.  Captain Phil nicknames him “Mouse” because he looked like he was about 14 years old and weighed about 120 pounds.  Captain Phil said, “He’s as green as they come, and he will get hurt.”  He kept an eye on Mouse to make sure he didn’t get himself killed.  Mouse was seasick for his entire tour of duty.  During one of their off loads at Dutch Harbor, Captain Phil had a local doctor come to the boat to make sure Mouse had the medication he needed.

#2  Give Credit Where It’s Due.
Despite being seasick for four months and loosing nine pounds on the Cornelia Marie, Mouse never stopped saying “This is still my dream job” and “The Bering Sea is not going to get me down.”  Captain Phil said, “I’ve never met anybody who’s got as much heart as he does.”

#1  Do What You Love.
Captain Phil Harris did what he loved.  It appears that crab fishing in the Bering Sea is a brutal life offset by laughter.  Alaskan fishermen can be wealthy, but it’s not about the money.  They do it because they love it.  Captain Phil said, “You gotta be a little bit twisted to do this job.”  He said he “wouldn’t want to do a different job.”

Thank you Captain Phil for showing us what means to live adventurously and with integrity.
Happy Hunting.

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