The Hillstrand brothers who own the Time Bandit have successfully created a legacy of respect within the Deadliest Catch fishing fleet. Three of the five, Johnathan Jr., Andy and Neal, co-own and operate the boat, and their sons and family members help to crew it, and operate the multiple Time Bandit enterprises. Johnathan Jr. recently retired after working as an Alaska crab fisherman for 37 years. The last episode of Deadliest Catch Season 13 chronicled his life on the Bering Sea.
Johnathan Jr. learned to fish from his dad, Johnathan Sr.- a successful man with a dictatorial style. His dad built the Time Bandit, calling it “the family boat”, and decided that his sons would buy it from him. What surprised his sons was that they ended up fishing their first crabbing season for their father, with his expectation that they would pay him the more than $1 million for the boat using their season earnings. Johnathan Jr. was 28 years old when he set out on that first season with his brother Andy, and neither of them had any training from Johnathan Sr. beforehand. They learned “by luck” Johnathan Jr. stated.
During his years crabbing on the Bering Sea, he earned the reputation of “high liner”- the captain who consistently brought in the highest catch. The other captains knew him as a gambler, too, fishing “all in” with an uncanny intuition for finding the biggest hauls of the fleet. He fished where his guts told him to fish and carried his famous “wild energy” with him.
“It’s hard to keep sanity out there.” Hillstrand admitted that he battled the dangers and difficulties of crabbing with fun. He had fun with his crew, and he pulled pranks on the other captains in the fleet. With his crew, he orchestrated pies in the face, fireworks lit on deck, sprays of Silly String, and “the flour bomb”. He described the flour bomb as a modern way to prank the crew on deck. Attaching bags of flour so that they explode on crew members when the pots are reeled in takes planning and mechanical precision. But it wasn’t the way the bombs were originally set. In the past, the bombs were created using human waste donated by the crew members. Hillstrand chuckled over that prank, and then noted that the modern way was much nicer.
When Hillstrand set out to prank his fellow captains, maximum effort was applied. Hillstrand mentioned that the Cornelia Marie “needed a truck”, and set about attaching an entire rusted truck body to a Cornelia Marie crab line. The crew of the Cornelia Marie hoisted it up out of the water with considerable effort, and then everyone was in on the joke. Hillstrand also created the ultimate prank when he had the Time Bandit run completely dark in deep waters so that his crew could light lanterns and send them out into the sky…right in the path of the unsuspecting Northwestern. Captain Sig thought they were UFOs and was “scared to death”.
Hillstrand handled crew issues immediately with fast discipline and immediate firing. He never tolerated rogue or unstable crew men, preferring to eject them from the boat as soon as practical. He also saved an overboard crew man within seconds of dying from hypothermia, and then openly cried on the spot. He’s hurt himself hundreds of times during his career, but never quit. He broke his nose and teeth but couldn’t feel it in the 30-degree weather on deck, but he did stop long enough to wash the blood from his face. When the 98-foot crab vessel Destination sunk off the coast of George Island, the fleet was devastated by the deaths of their fellow crabbers. Hillstrand said that he had to “put his big boy pants on” and fish anyway.
His final run on the Time Bandit hit the news in a big way. He gambled on a 600-mile run to fish near the Russian line. It took 3 days and 40 thousand gallons of fuel. There was no support for the ship, but he had a hunch, and “went all in”. He was rewarded with the highest crab pot numbers of the season. Nobody had fished there recently, and the crabs in the pots were beautiful. The fleet set off flares to welcome him and the Time Bandit on the last run of his career home to Dutch Harbor.
When interviewed, Hillstrand said that the Time Bandit is owned by three of the Hillstrand brothers, and that he expected his sons and the other family members would want to have boats of their own once he retired. The family also owns Time Bandit Gear Store, Time Bandit Fireworks, Time Bandit Productions, Time Bandit Spirits and Time Bandit Entertainment. Fans have speculated that Johnathan’s son Scott might take on the captain’s position, even though his uncle Andy fired him; which forced Scott to work on the Cornelia Marie for a while. Scott is the owner of Hillstrand Construction.
When Captain Josh Harris of the Cornelia Marie left the Deadliest Catch, and Captain Sig Hansen of the Northwestern retired, it left a gap in the popular show which only speculation could fill. This created enormous buzz over the recent release of Deadliest Catch: Rise of the Hillstrands. For many fans, their favorite vessels, crews or captains may be those which are no longer on the show. Life as an Alaskan crab fisherman is short, and the handing of ship from father to son is often not guaranteed. With the high regard for Johnathan Hillstrand, there’s no doubt that all eyes will be on Deadliest Catch to learn what the family might bring to the show.
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