After the death of beloved Capt. Phil Harris of the F/V Cornelia Marie last winter, fans of Discovery’s Tuesday-night reality hit “Deadliest Catch,” took his twentysomething sons, deckhands Josh and Jake Harris, to their hearts.
In “Thick as Thieves,” the episode airing Tuesday, May 24, some of those hearts could be broken.
Everyone — Discovery, Original Productions, Phil Harris’ friends and the brothers themselves — wanted to get the Cornelia Marie back in Alaska’s Bering Sea for the start of king-crab season last fall.
As fans saw when the new season of the show premiered on April 12, the boat was there, under Capt. Derrick Ray, a longtime friend of Capt. Harris’, who took over the boat for the last half of opilio-crab season after a stroke felled Harris.
Now co-owners of the boat with their father’s partner, Cornelia Marie Devlin, the Harris brothers were also on board, working as deckhands. But they had a lot more to worry about than just pulling pots.
“There’s a little thing called responsibility that I’m learning,” Josh Harris tells Zap2it, speaking for both himself and his younger brother. “It’s been a battle, trying to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong, and when you can put your foot down and when you can’t.
“Then you always question yourself, ‘Am I right, or am I wrong?’ You’re trying to figure everything out to the best of your ability.”
Since the Cornelia’s crab-fishing quotas had already been leased out to other boats, the boat set out with Ray’s own quotas and others gathered from friends in the fleet. There were thousands of pounds of blue crab to catch, followed by red crab.
“In our minds, it was great,” says executive producer Jeff Conroy. “The boys asked an old friend, a friend of Phil’s, to skipper the boat. This was great. We’ll have a nice chance for the boys to learn under somebody else, with the mindset that they’re going to have to take this boat over. So, that’s how we went in.”
But quickly, Ray’s skippering style clashed with the culture Phil Harris had established on the boat. Tensions erupted into verbal exchanges, with accusations flying back and forth. As viewers have seen, Josh Harris worried that they weren’t catching enough crab to pay the bills; and Ray thought there was drug use on the boat.
Then, before finishing out the blue-crab quota, the Harris brothers and the crew declared to Ray that they were done, and that there would be no red-crab season to follow.
“I didn’t know the boys,” says Ray, “and they didn’t fish with me during opilio season. That’s the bottom line. I didn’t have anything to prove to anybody. I was just helping Phil, helping Cornelia, and the boys had a different agenda.
“And there’s nothing I can do about that.”
“Enough is enough,” says Harris. “I had X amount of money to maintain the ship, and we far exceeded it. And Derrick proceeded to tell me that I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about when it came to running the boat.
“I have the utmost respect for the guy, and if the crab were out there to catch, and if we had a sufficient vessel that wasn’t fuel-consuming, perhaps things would have been different.”
There were also personality conflicts.
“It was his way or the highway,” says Harris, “and that’s not the way my dad ran the boat. That’s not the way the guys are structured.”
And then there was was Ray’s belief that recovering addict Jake Harris — despite having passed drug tests of his urine — was smoking pot aboard the boat.
In Tuesday’s episode, the conflict comes to a head. The Cornelia Marie
arrives back in Dutch Harbor, and the police that Ray has already called are there to
search the boat for drugs. TMZ.com reported on it at the time, and according to Josh Harris, no charges have been filed as a result of the search.
“There certainly is the drug accusation,” says Conroy. “It comes up very clearly in the show. We didn’t shy away from that. And certainly Derrick had his side, and Jake had his side. It was more of a Jake, Derrick, who’s telling the truth?
“We have a lot in this episode, I think, that weights toward you thinking that Jake is doing something; and there’s stuff weighing toward Derrick being overly concerned or overly paranoid.
“So, we tried to weight it as evenly as possible, because certainly there was a suspicion that Jake had been smoking pot.”
Since these episodes have aired, fans have reacted strongly, with a lot of hostility directed at Ray.
“People are so passionate about hating somebody,” Ray says. “In modern society today, I understand that we need our distractions, and television’s one of them, but man, take some of that energy and put it to good use. Don’t hate on somebody you don’t even know.
“But they don’t know me as a father; they don’t know me as a human being. They have no idea. I don’t get it. That’s the part I don’t understand.”
Conroy says, “Derrick really believed it was time for tough love, that these boys had been skating, and their dad had been giving them a free ride, so to speak.
“This idea can get lost easily — I think Derrick’s intentions were good. Derrick thought he was doing the best he could for those boys. I don’t think it was, but I thought he was doing the best he could do.”
While the Cornelia Marie may be done fishing for king crab as of Tuesday’s installment, Harris says, “You will see us back for opilio season. It’s a whole new flavor. It’s a whole new ballgame there.
“You know what, we made things happen. Where there’s a will, there’s always a way.”
And one day, Harris may sit in his father’s chair.
“I really want to start running a boat,” he says. “You’re the first one I’ve ever told this — I’m getting ready to enroll in captains’ school the second week of June. I think Jake’s going to do the same, so there’s some good stuff going on.
“It’s time to sink or swim.”