Cornelia Marie, an iconic commercial fishing vessel, has captured the hearts of many through its appearance on the hit reality TV series “Deadliest Catch” aired on Discovery Channel.
Under the command of Captain Phil Harris, the boat braved the freezing Alaskan waters during the crabbing season, facing immense dangers and misfortunes.
Despite numerous challenges, Cornelia Marie remained afloat, becoming a symbol of resilience and survival in the treacherous Bering Sea.
The Origins of FV Cornelia Marie
Contrary to popular belief, Cornelia Marie was not named after Captain Phil Harris’s first wife. The vessel was named after a real-life Cornelia Marie, a Native Alaskan married to Ralph Collins.
In 1989, the couple invested $1.5 million in a 106-foot crabbing boat, which they had built by renowned shipbuilder Elma Horton in Bayou La Batre, Alabama.
Powered by twin Mitsubishi engines with 630 horsepower and capable of holding 25,800 gallons of fuel, the boat paid tribute to Ralph’s wife, who managed the accounts of their fishing business.
Captain Phil Harris and the Early Years
Initially, the plan was for Cornelia Marie to sail from Bayou La Batre to Seattle through the Gulf of Mexico and the Panama Canal. However, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the temporary closure of the Panama Canal caused the fishing vessel to be stuck there for over a week.
Eventually reaching Seattle during the crabbing season, Ralph Collins became its temporary captain until they found a suitable replacement.
They sought someone trustworthy to helm the boat and found Phil Harris. Offering him a corner stake of ownership and the opportunity to captain a newly built state-of-the-art boat, Phil accepted the offer.
Despite lacking a formal technical engineering education, Phil’s experience, gut instinct, and astuteness made him an exceptional captain.
Perils of the Sea
Life aboard a crab fishing vessel in the Bering Sea is filled with hazards, reminding everyone of the dangers inherent in their profession. Waves, some reaching over 100 feet high, posed serious threats to the boat and its crew.
One incident involved a massive wave colliding head-on with Cornelia Marie, breaking the boat’s two solid heavy steel rudders. Phil’s quick thinking and composure averted a potential disaster.
Another harrowing experience involved a fire in the engine bay. Co-captain Casey McManus’s technical expertise saved the day, preventing the flames from causing more significant damage. These incidents highlight the bravery and competence required to navigate the treacherous waters.
The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic
The crab fishing industry was not immune to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Annual surveys conducted by the government, which dictated limitations on crab harvesting, were canceled due to uncertainties brought about by the pandemic.
As a result, the red king crab fishery had to be closed for the 2021-2022 season, affecting the livelihood of fishing vessels like Cornelia Marie.
Operating expenses soared, and crew recruitment became challenging due to flight restrictions and fears of contracting the virus. The crew had to adjust their fishing activities and turn to alternative sources of income, such as hunting for golden king crabs, which presented new challenges.
Golden King Crab Fishing
Fishing for golden king crabs proved to be more complex and physically demanding than red crab fishing.
Cornelia Marie’s crew faced difficulties in setting up the pots at much deeper waters, but with the assistance of Captain Jonathan Hillstrand from the Time Bandit, they successfully managed the task.
The Troubled Path of Captain Phil’s Sons
After Captain Phil Harris’s passing, his sons, Josh and Jake, continued to work on the fishing vessel.
Unfortunately, Jake Harris encountered legal issues, including arrests for driving under the influence and drug possession. His troubled past, coupled with run-ins with the law, added to the vessel’s challenges.
Josh Harris’s Termination from Deadliest Catch
In a shocking revelation, it was reported in 2022 that Josh Harris was involved in a sexual abuse case dating back to 1998 when he was around 15 years old.
The allegations led to his termination from “Deadliest Catch,” and Discovery Channel distanced itself from him. This incident raised doubts about the vessel’s future on the show.
The Uncertain Future of FV Cornelia Marie
With its storied history, Cornelia Marie has weathered numerous storms and challenges over the years.
However, the recent scandals and controversies surrounding Captain Phil’s sons have cast a shadow over the vessel’s future on “Deadliest Catch” and in the fishing industry.
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