Book Reviews

Book Review: Captain Phil Harris: The Legendary Crab Fisherman, Our Hero, Our Dad by Josh Harris and Jake Harris

I’ve been a fan of the television show Deadliest Catch almost since its inception. Although some of the stories are dramatized for effect, it’s a look into the world of crab fishermen on the Bering Sea in Alaska. Although he wasn’t on the show at the beginning, Captain Phil Harris became a fan favorite with the Cornelia Marie. Following his death, his two sons who were on the ship with him co-wrote a book about their father.

Phil Harris was a lot of things, but the sons are honest about him. They don’t try to paint him as a loving and devoted father. They detail his faults both as a parent and a person. Some of that led to a fractured relationship with him, and is likely the reason for some of the problems viewers saw on the show.

Phil Harris was a successful crab fisherman. He hit the “jackpot” so to speak back in the days of “derby” crab fishing where it was a free-for-all with every ship out there trying to catch and deliver as much crab as they could until the season closed. Crab fishing moved to a quota system during the show’s 20+ seasons, which made it much safer. Phil lived large. He loved fishing, but he also loved women, drinking, and drugs. Sometimes not in that order. He did seem responsible enough to stay sober when he was out at sea, but when he’d come back with a windfall from being out crab fishing, he had no problem figuring out where to spend it.

Phil didn’t always make great choices. He was married several times. He didn’t see his sons as much as he should have, and he chose his second wife over his sons when he should have put them first. Yet, they still loved him and formed a bond once they were able to join him on the Cornelia Marie for fishing.

Reading how he punished his body in so many ways, it’s a miracle he didn’t die sooner. He lived life large, yet he also had a heart of gold at times, except when it came to sticking up for his sons to his second wife. Josh doesn’t dwell on this rejection that left him homeless and couch-surfing at one point. I would have thought that would have required years of therapy. Josh just presents it as a fact and seems to excuse it, but I have to wonder how he really felt about it, if he could let go of the legend a little bit. I think it was a hard thing to merge the man he was with the affable legend fans saw on television. He seems like the kind of guy who would be fun to hang out with, and perhaps that was part of the problem. There are details about how much he enjoyed the life of a celebrity once he was featured on the television show, particularly having the women throw themselves at him.

I found the book to be an easy read. I liked Phil as he seemed to be a genuine person who didn’t try to be something he wasn’t. At the same time, I’m glad I wasn’t his family. He let his sons down and he routinely put himself first instead of being a husband and father. Phil was one who wanted the whole story told, even the bad parts, so I don’t think this does him a disservice. It’s a reminder that people are complicated and even those we admire and like have feet of clay. If you’re a fan of the series who followed his story, you’ll do yourself a favor and pick this up to get a more complete picture of a legendary sea captain.