In our October issue's Dock Talk column, veteran Alaska fisherman Douglas Herman looks back at 30 years of crewing with both good and bad skippers. "The best are blessed with crew retention," he says. "The worst go through crew like the Kardashians go through boyfriends."
Tales of the worst are the most fun to read about though. That's especially true if you're not the one who lived through the constant insults and volatile behavior. Herman recounts some of the skippers he admires as well as ones he doesn't — like "the only skipper I would have hesitated tossing a line, if he fell overboard" — on page 13.
Some skippers will tell you, however, that a little yelling is a necessary part of the job. For another perspective, I pulled up the 1998 article, "Loud & Proud" from National Fisherman's archives. The self-professed screamers point out that it can at times be the most effective way of managing a crew.
"All in all, I'm pretty hard on my crew, because I have no pity for them, and I tell them that up front," said Bristol Bay highlander Emil Christensen. "They will understand when the paycheck comes. And if they still have a problem after that, maybe they're not cut out for fishing anyway."
But there's also a line between a skilled highliner yelling at his crew and a crazy captain. One crew member tells about being thrown into the ocean in his sleeping bag for not making coffee early enough. The same crewman says he was more "duck-hand" than deckhand because he spent most of his time on deck ducking flying objects thrown by the skipper, including weights, a belt and even a television set.
Bad behavior can also be dangerous. This summer Michael Clemens was arrested for assault and operating under the influence in Kodiak after three crew members decided to abandon ship. He allegedly tried to push two of them off the boat when they confronted him about being too drunk to run the skiff. They reported that he had also been dropping equipment overboard and almost fell in himself.
What do you think? Is screaming at your crew a justifiable part of running a fishing boat or the sign of a bad skipper? Maybe it all depends on who's screaming.