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Originally published Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 7:03 PM

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Capt. Sig Hansen's memoir is a salty tale of a seafaring family

An interview with Captain Sig Hansen (of the Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch"), who has written a memoir with author Mark Sundeen: "North by Northwestern: A Seafaring Family on Deadly Alaskan Waters."

Seattle Times staff reporter


'Deadliest Catch'

Season 6 gets under way April 13 on Discovery Channel.
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The Northwestern:

Deadliest Catch: on "Deadliest Catch" on the TV Shows drop-down menu.


Sig Hansen admits this: He doesn't read a lot of books.

And the idea of doing one himself sounded like more trouble than this "Deadliest Catch" skipper could tolerate, even though people around him had been suggesting it for years.

But once a publicist connected Hansen, who lives in Shoreline, with Montana-based outdoor writer Mark Sundeen, things fell into place.

"Basically, all I had to do is open my mouth and talk," said Hansen. "How hard is that?"

Apparently, not too hard. Their collaboration, "North by Northwestern: A Seafaring Family on Deadly Alaskan Waters" is to be released this week by St. Martin's Press (304 pp., $25.99).

Viewers of "Deadliest Catch," starting its sixth season on the Discovery Channel April 13, know that Hansen is seldom at a loss for words, whether he's complaining about the Bering Sea weather, sparring with fellow skippers or urging his crew members to pull another line of crab pots even though they've been at it 30 straight hours.

"This is what we do," says Hansen, 43. "It's either this or flip burgers."

Given Hansen's hard-driving style, it's conceivable he would have made a rather formidable burger-flipper, if life had pointed him that direction.

But would he have fans in 150 countries — and have made guest appearances with Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Jim "Mad Money" Cramer and each of the Stewarts — Martha and Jon? Would his work have inspired a product line that includes coffee mugs, mouse pads, fish sticks, a Rogue ale and an X-box video game?

Likely not.

In the pages of "North by Northwestern," readers will learn of the heritage that led Hansen and his younger brothers, Norman and Edgar, to a life on Alaskan waters. When his grade-school classmates were learning their ABCs, Sigurd Johnny Hansen was drawing fishing boats with swirls of black coming out of their smokestacks.

Though the media may portray today's "Deadliest Catch" fishermen as tough, Hansen insists, "You ain't seen nothing. You should have seen my dad ... my granddad, my Uncle Karl, and all the men who came over from Norway or ventured north from Seattle to pioneer the crab industry long before cable television, GPS, satellite phones and computer depth finders and plotters. Hell, they were doing it in wooden boats."

Like many of his countrymen, Sverre (Svare-ee) Hansen, Sig's father, settled in Ballard, epicenter of Seattle's Scandinavian heritage. That's where Sig was born in 1966.

And even though the family moved to Shoreline while Sig was still an infant, the bonds of the Norwegian community were so strong that his mother, Snefryd, seldom needed more English than it took to navigate the grocery store.

In first grade, Sig was sent home with a note reading, "Teach him English. Stop speaking Norwegian."

Even today, Hansen speaks Norwegian at home with his wife, June, and his stepdaughters, Nina, 18, and Mandy, 14, and walks in Ballard's annual Norwegian Constitution Day Parade in May.

And at least once a year, the family makes a visit to Norway, and in particular, to the island of Karmoy, which produced not only the Hansens' parents, but the women Sig and Edgar Hansen married. Norman Hansen is single.

In the book, Sig Hansen laments the fading ethnic identity of the Seattle neighborhood that welcomed his father and so many other Nordic immigrants.

"You won't hear Norwegian spoken on the streets of Ballard anymore," he says. "It's become one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Seattle." The weekend farmers markets he dismisses as "frequented by sandal-wearing recyclers ... storefronts that once sold hardware and ship supplies are now boutiques ... It's not clear to me what they sell."

Each of the three Hansen brothers owns an equal stake in the Northwestern, but as maritime tradition dictates, Captain Sig is boss on board. That doesn't stop Edgar, 39, the cutup in the family, from complaining to the Discovery Channel cameras about "Psycho Sig." Norman Hansen, 42, the shy brother, usually stays out of view.

The Hansens knock on wood each time they say that the Northwestern, the 1977-vintage, Seattle-built fishing boat they inherited from their father, has had no fatalities, permanent injuries or major mishaps — under their father's tenure or theirs.

Sverre Hansen wasn't as fortunate with his earlier boat, the wooden Foremost, which burned and sank in the Bering Sea in 1969, leaving Hansen and his three-man crew bobbing in stormy waters for hours until another fishing boat came to their aid. Each chapter of "North by Northwestern" opens with an installment in the story of the Foremost's harrowing end.

Sverre Hansen died of a heart attack in 2001, years before "Deadliest Catch" turned his sons into folk heroes.

What Sverre Hansen might have thought of the showbiz side of the Northwestern isn't clear to Sig, who himself is amazed the series has lasted this long.

"When we did it that first time, we figured OK, we'll do this as a nice tribute to our industry, to our family, and that will be it. But from there it just kept going."

Sig Hansen said he's still uncomfortable with the idea of fame, and he could do without some of its trappings, such as having people steal the life preservers off his boat, or approach him to shake hands when he's "knee deep in a hamburger in some restaurant."

But he's glad that the series calls attention to his profession and gratified the Northwestern has been able to help out some charitable causes, such as taking a young cancer patient out for a day of crab-fishing through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Hansen's co-author, Sundeen, said the staying power of "Deadliest Catch" stems from the family ties among the crew members on each featured boat.

"People get to know these families. They feel a connection as they watch family dramas unfold under some very stressful circumstances."

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or

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