6/5/07 Discovery LiveChat:
Captain Andy Hillstrand of the F/V Time Bandit
Discovery: Welcome to this week's Deadliest Catch chat. Our guest is Andy Hillstrand, captain aboard the Time Bandit. Captain Andy takes the wheel of the Time Bandit during opilio season while his brother, Johnathan, skippers during red crab. Andy faced one of the biggest waves of the season. Find out more about his experience. Ask him about big waves and this season of fishing now.
Andy Hillstrand: I'm just glad to be here to answer people's questions, and hopefully we can answer all your questions to the best of our ability.
Inafromattle: I love you guys - the Time Bandit is my favorite!! Is it frustrating sometimes to switch to the deck when you are used to being in the captain's seat? Do you think about what decision you would have made as opposed to the one your brother made?
Andy Hillstrand: I've been doing it for so long, switching to the deck, for 14 years. So it's almost a relief for me to go down on deck because I don't have to think about running the boat.
Patty: You guys were so cool bailing that greenhorn out of jail - did he appreciate that?
Andy Hillstrand: (laughing) Kind of. He appreciated getting out of jail, but I don't know how far the gratitude went! He was still a greenhorn after all.
Bugga314: Thanks for taking the time to chat with all of us, Andy! How long do you see yourself crabbin', before you just stay at the ranch full time?
Andy Hillstrand: I'm hoping to maybe be off the deck by the time I'm 50, which will give me about another 6 years. But fishing is in my blood, so you never know.
Cheryl in NC: What is the most important thing you have learned from crab fishing?
Andy Hillstrand: You never quit. You never give up. Because if you give up, you die where we work.
OUhockeyfan: Thanks for sharing your time with us, Capt'n Andy. What strengths do you think crab fishing has brought to your career as a horseman, and vice versa?
Andy Hillstrand: Well you have to have patience, you have to never quit, and you have to learn how to deal with the psychology. You have to use psychology on the deck when the fishing is bad, and you have to do the same with horses - use psychology and your body language. Whether it's on a freezing deck, or on a ranch with a horse, you have to use psychology.
Carole: It was so wonderful when you guys rescued Josh. How many hours of training do crew persons get in order to be able to perform a rescue like that? And is there someone on every boat who is trained in first aid?
Andy Hillstrand: Yes, we have to have somebody on the boat who goes through what we call the AMSEA training for first aid, doing our man overboard drills, and Maydays. Johnathan and I both have our cards. We both went through the training, and we practice all our drills once a month.
Bugga314: What is your relationship like with your brothers off the boat?
Andy Hillstrand: My brothers are pretty much my best friends, besides my wife. We've always been competitive, but we love each other.
Ackmel: Hi Andy - it's nice to see a fellow Hoosier out there fishing! You guys have the coolest boat out there. How cold was the water you had to dive into to remove the rope from the prop? How long have you been diving?
Andy Hillstrand: The water was 36 degrees. I've been diving since I was 17 years old, and I'm now 43, about to be 44.
Bugga314: Are you and your crew as superstitious as the other crews or not?
Andy Hillstrand: No, we're not as superstitious as a lot of the crews, but we do knock on wood. We have a few superstitions, but we're not as bad as some of the old Norwegians. They have quite a few superstitions.
Rfritsche: Besides the awesome king crab season you guys had at the end, what was the best season you guys have ever had?
Andy Hillstrand: I had an opilio season in 1999 where I caught 1.8 million pounds of opilio, and my crew members made $76,000 in two months.
Keylayne: What is the most incredible or awe inspiring thing that you have seen while being out on the sea?
Andy Hillstrand: I've seen volcanoes blowing up when I'm 12 miles offshore and seeing lava blow out the mountains. And I've stared into 100 foot waves. Those are awe-inspiring times when you really have to think about what you're doing. It gives you the feeling that there's definitely something bigger than yourself out there.
Bugga314: Did you or any other captain ever think that Deadliest Catch would be such a hit with the fans?
Andy Hillstrand: I've shot a lot of home videos of crab fishing over the years, and I thought it was pretty boring! We weren't on the show for the first year, so I was able to watch it the first year and got hooked on it. It made it interesting, because I got to see my other buddies. Normally we just talk on the radio, but on the show I could see the stuff that happens on their boats and the way they tell their story. It's a lot better than home video footage. Way better!
Beachfeet: How do you stay awake in the wheelhouse at night?
Andy Hillstrand: A LOT of coffee. And sticking your head out the window in 40 knot winds.
Beth 44: Captain Andy, thanks for spending your time with us. Is there a way that we can send letters or email to you and the Time Bandit crew?
Andy Hillstrand: You can send emails and letters to us by going to www.timebandit.tv. We have message boards and ways to communicate with us.
Bugga314: How many years have you captained the boat, and how many years have you been fishing?
Andy Hillstrand: I've been fishing for 26 years, and we built the Time Bandit in 1991. So I'd say that's 16 years that I've been running the Time Bandit for opilio. (I hope I'm doing the math right!)
Melinda: How often do you go to Alaska and how long do you stay?
Andy Hillstrand: I lived in Alaska for 40 years, so I was always there. Nowadays, I spend about 3-4 months a year up there fishing: 2 months for king crab, and 2 months for opilio. I love what I do down here in Indiana, so I don't really miss Alaska because I know I'll be back.
Lhiiiz: What was it like to build the Time Bandit?
Andy Hillstrand: It was pretty challenging. We built it with our father, so we built that whole boat in 9 months, which is pretty good: me and all my brothers. I have 5 brothers total, counting myself. And as you can expect, we had some times with our father when we didn't get along too well. But to build a crab boat like that in 9 months is pretty good.
Cheryl in NC: Has the show changed the way you do things?
Andy Hillstrand: The show hasn't changed the way we do things, but the way the federal government has changed the fishing industry has. We now have a quota system, so we don't have the derby-style fishing any more. But we've changed the way we do things because when we got that guy out of the water, it made us realize we have to keep a line around a guy when he goes down over the side. So we've actually learned something from watching the show. That was one improvement we could afford to make.
Clint445: Greetings from Athens, Tx. I have a two part question. When y'alls crab processor was out of commission, some crews couldn't fish because they were contracted only to them. How come you don't have a clause in your contract that says you can offload anywhere during situations beyond your control? And second, do y'all eat any of the crab you catch while you are fishing, or are they strictly to be sold?
Andy Hillstrand: First question: the federal government told us we can only deliver to that one processor, so that's why we couldn't deliver anywhere else That's one of the problems with this quota system. And yeah, we eat the crab all the time! We never get sick of it, because it's so fresh. That's what we are hoping to be able to do is get fresh crab to people instead of frozen, because it's a whole different taste.
Aroostook: Andy, what would you and Johnathan have done with the "whiner" that Monte was stuck with? Used him for bait?
Andy Hillstrand: Yeah, I would have turned that boat around. First I would have locked him in the room - I don't want to see your face! I was enraged. No matter if the guys were giving him a hard time, it shows your character if you can keep working. But to walk off the deck - that's just quitting. So it just enrages me.
Lhiiiz: Have you personally ever had a close call while crabbing?
Andy Hillstrand: Yes, I've had a line wrapped around my hand once. I just kind of threw my hand forward, and didn't panic. The coils that were wrapping around my hand - I lost my glove, and it happened so fast. It just wasn't my time to go. It could have pulled me right over because there was major tension on the line.
Kdewberry: Hello! Do you have any other siblings besides Johnathan and if so, do they fish as well?
Andy Hillstrand: Yes, I have 3 other brothers besides Johnathan. Neal is on the boat fishing with us on all these episodes. My other 2 brothers - one is a doctor, and one works on the North Slope of Alaska, up on the oil fields.
Beth 44: What's the best thing about being on Deadliest Catch? What have your best experiences been since achieving this "celebrity" status?
Andy Hillstrand: The best thing is I have the best home videos of anyone out there! And I guess people come up to me on the street and want to shake my hand and say they love the show. It's a good feeling to know that people appreciate the job you do, and that they think it's worthwhile enough to spend their time watching it. I don't feel like I'm a celebrity - I feel like the same person I've always been. I guess maybe if I get to go to a NASCAR race and meet Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr., THEN I'll be a celebrity!
Aroostook: Captain Andy, we have been watching reruns all weekend, and I have decided I'm not taking you shopping! On the average how much time do you spend in the grocery store? You look like contestants in that game show that used to be on where people raced through the market to get the biggest haul in the least time!
Andy Hillstrand: Unfortunately, it takes about 3 hours to do all that shopping. That's why we run as fast as we can, and we've been shopping for so long that we're lucky we have it down to 3 hours! We get everything that you can throw off those shelves - magazines, steaks, produce, slippers, chocolate - you name it. When you're out on the ocean, you don't have a second chance to drive back to the store, so you have to make it count. And they get real grumpy when you forget the milk :-) We've done that - and forgotten coffee. Oh yeah. Yelling at everyone for forgetting the coffee. We had to drink tea.
Jen: Were you with John on Black Sunday?
Andy Hillstrand: Me and Johnathan were together when there were 100 foot seas. I think we were on different boats for Black Monday, but we were together for Black Thursday. That's one of the times I thought I was going to die - got hit from behind by a 100 foot wave.
Sissytulips: Good evening Captain Andy. It appears that all the vessels are running computer software programs. What are these programs used for, and how detrimental is it to the vessel if the system crashes? Who fixes it when it does crash?
Andy Hillstrand: We're running a navigation program called Nobletec. Some guys use the "Globe" system to mark our pots where we put them in the water. If the system crashes, it's devastating. But we always write down our numbers, the latitude and longitude, because our computers have crashed more than once. We become the self-certified computer technicians when that happens, and try to fix them ourselves as good as we can.
HiVolt65: Hi Capt. Hillstrand, quite the difference between Indiana and Alaska. What are the positives and negatives of each place as far as you are concerned?
Andy Hillstrand: The positives of Alaska is it's not as humid as Indiana. Negative - I could only ride horses 3 months a year in Alaska. Quick synopsis. But they're both so different that I appreciate them both.
Ggabalot: Greg from the Farwest Leader had his wife on his last trip fishing. Has your wife ever accompanied you on one of the crab fishing trips?
Andy Hillstrand: No, my wife has accompanied me on salmon trips, but never on the crab boat. This is one of our superstitions that we don't take women on the boat for crab fishing. Nothing personal on the women Guys usually just start fighting over the girls. You're at sea for 3 months, and the captain's got his wife there and is getting some lovin', and the rest of the crew gets jealous. That's probably where the superstition came from.
Decspumpkin: I love fishing and was wondering how hard is it to pick the spots to put the pots?
Andy Hillstrand: The Bering Sea is such a vast area that you kind of go with your traditional spots that you normally fish. But there are so many variables with ice pack and weather and stuff that you have to really just go with your instincts.
I love Blake: I am very curious to know how you can go under the boat to cut the rope off your propeller and stay in the water for over an hour and not even be shivering when you came up, but yet a man in a survival suit may or may not last an hour in the same 36 degree water.
Andy Hillstrand: A dry suit is made to keep water out. It has insulated underwear, and a survival suit does not have insulated underwear and it does not keep water out all the way. Water does come in, and all it does is warm it to body temperature. Ragnhild, the lady on the Farwest Leader, was putting on her suit and you could see it was above her nose and water was just pouring off.
Sfscrapper: What size was the rope you cut off the wheel and what size is your wheel? You guys are great!
Andy Hillstrand: Our wheels are 15? in diameter and the rope was 3/4 inch round. It was wrapped about 3 foot thick around the shaft. I went through 2 knives cutting the rope off - brand new, sharp knives.
Doug357: Hi Andy, are you dive certified?
Andy Hillstrand: Yes, I am NAUI certified.
Lhiiiz: So, how many cowboy hats have you lost to the Bering Sea?
Andy Hillstrand: (laughing) That was actually the first time I wore my cowboy hat on deck. I got tired of looking like every other monkey out there in the orange suit. I ended up giving my hat away to a fan. It made it all the way through the season, covered with bait and everything.
SultanaTX: Hey Captain Andy do you miss the old school derby-style fishing, or do you prefer the new way?
Andy Hillstrand: I totally miss the old style. That's what we grew up on, and how we learned to fish. It really made you a good captain. Now it seems like you're guaranteed to catch crab, so it's kind of taken the fun out of it. But bad things can still happen out there.
Mike TX: Andy, I enjoy watching you and your crew fish. My question is how much has the price of diesel affected your operation? It's killing us farmers here in Texas. I can't imagine how much diesel costs up in Alaska.
Andy Hillstrand: Yeah, diesel prices were $2.65 a gallon when I left Alaska, and I think they've gone up, so it's really affected our bottom line. Seems the price of crab just stays pretty much where it's been for the last 20 years. The price for cattle has gone up more than the price of crab has. And that's why we're so grateful for people to realize how hard we work to catch the crab.
Time Bandit: With the show being so popular Andy, do other boats now keep track of your position and where you put your pots to try and take from your secret places?
Andy Hillstrand: Oh yeah! We had to call the Farwest Leader and tell him where some king crab were last season. He couldn't find the crab, so we told him. Sig on the Northwestern saw us up there for a day and half, and he just knew we were on the crab. So the guys definitely look for Sig and Phil and myself to know where we're at.
Raptor: What is tendering when you do salmon season?
Andy Hillstrand: Tendering is where the fishermen in little boats - 32 or 58 foot boats - catch the salmon, then they deliver them to us, and we take them to the canneries. So we work for the cannery then. They're just little guys, so for them to maximize catching a whole bunch of salmon, they have to deliver as fast as they can. And we can pack 350,000 pounds of salmon.
Mikeharubin: Is there a huge difference between salmon fishing and the crab fishing, i.e. different time of year, calmer seas?
Andy Hillstrand: Yes, they're totally different times of the year. Salmon is in the summer, beautiful weather, sometimes gets nasty. But night and day. We can barbecue in the summer. Not much barbecuing in the winter!
Kathy VA: What is the worst job, in your opinion, to have on deck?
Andy Hillstrand: To be the bait boy. Actually, if you're the head baiter, we just call him the master baiter.
Noreaster: Have crabs been fished by other means other than pots? Or is that governed by Alaska Fish and Game?
Andy Hillstrand: I've heard of crab being fished with nets before, but we've always used pots and that's what the regulations have been. They have been caught in trawls, but that's catching them by accident.
Heather616: You seem to be very easy-going in the captain's chair. How do you guys stay so collected during such nerve-wracking times?
Andy Hillstrand: I've always been pretty laid back, but I do get excited from time to time. The first year being on the show, I didn't really know what to do with all the cameras around, so I was just sort of doing my job and kind of not being myself, really. I can get excited at times, for sure! But I'm not what you'd consider a hot-head. My dad always was a hot head, a screamer. And that just caused confusion, so that's why I've gone the other way.
Atommobile: How hard is it to accept a greenhorn into the main artery group of the deckhands?
Andy Hillstrand: With the quota system that's happened to us, we went from 240 boats down to 80 boats, so approximately 800-1000 good crew members have lost their jobs. So it's hard for me to justify hiring a greenhorn when there are so many qualified guys out there who'd love the job. Compared to the old days, when greenhorns could just walk on the dock and ask for a job. And it still happens now, but rarely. A guy on the Aleutian Ballad got a job that way. He said he was going to jump overboard if they didn't take him in. And now this year, a guy on the Wizard basically walked in off the deck.
Tigersheet36: Hi Andy, love the show. Who does all of the cooking on the boat?
Andy Hillstrand: My brother Neal does a lot of the cooking, and he's one of the best cooks. He cooks really well. And he also helps me run the boat for opilio at certain times as a relief skipper.
Red gold: The music you have on your MySpace page, do you listen to it on the boat? Looks like a mix of all kinds.
Andy Hillstrand: Yes, we listen to all different sorts of music. With the show, we can't listen to music because they're filming. I love country, rock and roll. I grew up listening to every kind of music you could imagine. A good hip hop song, I'll listen to it. Sometimes late at night you need pounding hard rock. Sometimes after a stressful time, you need some classical music, something to calm you down. It can get pretty hectic at times.
Korte: Do you have a "crab jig" that you dance when things are looking good, like your brother?
Andy Hillstrand: Yes, I did the thing last season called the "rodeo dance" - throw my little lariat around.
Mmarybeth27: Hey Captain Andy!! My family loves the show. My 2-year-old loves the "wata and cabbies." Do you have small children and do you allow them to watch some of the most dangerous things you do?
Andy Hillstrand: I have a 19-year-old daughter, and a 25-year-old daughter, and they pretty much grew up around boats. They've gone on a few fishing trips with me for cod. I've always been really honest with them, so they know what their dad does. They're two of the best girls in the world.
Bethany: Andy, watching After the Catch right now! I'm a big fan! When do you get to sleep when you are out?
Andy Hillstrand: Very rarely. But we sleep in maybe 4-hour intervals at times. We have what we call wheel watches, where everyone takes a one-hour watch. So you might get 4-5 hours of sleep at a time when you're not fishing. And when you're fishing, you just don't sleep - you just keep fishing because the crab never quit climbing in your pots!
Aroostook: How do you keep the water in your 4 person Jacuzzi that you supposedly have on board?
Andy Hillstrand: We actually have a sauna on the boat. We don't have a Jacuzzi, just a 2-man sauna. And believe me, it's as nice as a 4-man Jacuzzi when it's 40 below!
Abes: I really enjoyed the flour bombs. Will there be more this season and how did you come up with that?
Andy Hillstrand: My brother John came up with the idea off the old version of what people used to put in bags and set on fire. So he decided to try some flour, and it was absolutely the best thing I've ever seen in my life! Doesn't matter if they put it out fast or slow, it's still going to explode. I couldn't believe it worked so well. We actually did it to another boat, but I don't know if it will end up on the show. We did ten flour bombs altogether - 3 on the buoy setup and they thought that was all of them, but we had 7 more waiting in the middle.
Dorien: Do you ever play pranks on the crew if they start to whine too much for no reason?
Andy Hillstrand: Oh yeah! We've played pranks like setting the clocks back, tying a string to their foot, throwing a bucket overboard, taking the airhorn and blowing it right in their ears when they're sleeping. You have to use all your years of captaining to know you're not going to get punched when you do it! You use pranks to try to bring up crew morale. This year we had a guy whining pretty bad, so it makes you want to do mean pranks. We don't normally tolerate whiners or quitters, because you have a choice to be out there, and one whiner can make it miserable for everyone else. We're all in it together.
Nicole71: Hi Capt. Andy. I saw you wearing a Penn State hat in one season. Just wanted to know if you went there?
Andy Hillstrand: No, I never went to Penn State. I just happened to be in a store, and thought it was a pretty cool hat. I thought it was a jaguar or a panther, and it wasn't until I bought the hat that I found out it was a Penn State hat. But I've always liked Joe Paterno.
Nila Stauffe: I read in your bios that you train horses in Indiana. We live in Indiana and love to ride and train TWH to trail ride. Do you race, show, or trail ride, and what breed of horse?
Andy Hillstrand: I train quarterhorses. I was a 3-time state champion barrel racer in Alaska. But nowadays I just train natural horsemanship. That's my specialty - using psychology. I pretty much love being around horses, doesn't matter if it's barrel racing, training horses - they all need a good foundation.
Fedesna: What kind of schooling background do you have?
Andy Hillstrand: I'm a high school graduate, and the School of Hard Knocks. But my father and grandfather were very entrepreneurial, and my grandfather started a hotel in Homer, Alaska. He was in the State Legislature in Alaska for a while. My father started a fish business in Alaska. They passed on their work ethic. We wouldn't want to work for anyone else. And I like being my own boss.
Keylayne: Is there anything special that you and your family like to do, or any place you like to go when you aren't fishing?
Andy Hillstrand: We like to ride horses. Believe it or not, I like to fish. And hunt. And I like to travel. I want to go diving in Costa Rica. I've never gotten to dive in warm water, although I have snorkeled, so that's one of my ambitions - to float around in warm water.
SultanaTX: Andy how do you get rid of the smell of fish?
Andy Hillstrand: About 2 cycle washings. Takes 2 washings to wash my clothes, or so my wife tells me. It takes a lot of hand washing to get the smell off your hands. But that's the smell of money, though - so you want to keep it on you as long as you can!
Bansheecall: My son is in Homer to commercial salmon fish this year. Any words of advice?
Andy Hillstrand: Just work hard, don't whine, and the skipper knows who's working hard without the crew members telling him that they're working hard. Skippers know everything that's going on. And a good crew member will always find a job.
Lhiiiz: Is the Time Bandit the most luxurious crab boat out there?
Andy Hillstrand: Well, I'd say we all have really nice boats. The Cornelia Marie is really nice, the Northwestern is a beautiful boat. But we're right up there too, as one of the nicer boats. But all three of these boats are top notch, well taken care of boats. Beautiful. It's like being at home. We have a dishwasher, regular mattress beds, posturepedic mattresses. And the sauna! There you have it.
ChrisSEA: What are the pros/cons of a fore vs. aft wheelhouse? Are crabs able to adjust to the pressure differences when brought to the surface because they don't use oxygen?
Andy Hillstrand: I personally love a house aft boat. I worked on house fore boats, and you get pounded in rough weather. You can actually levitate in your bunk. So I would never fish in a fore house boat. Crab have internal air bladders in their bodies, so they adjust perfectly as they go up and down in the water.
PetERr: Captain Andy, your boat is the best! Is there any way I could get an autograph from you or one of the guys on the Time Bandit?
Andy Hillstrand: Send us an email, and I have a very limited few signed pictures of Johnathan and me. I'll see what I can do! (Can't make promises, though.)
Discovery: Andy, thank you for being here tonight to answer so many questions! We're almost out of time, but is there anything you'd like to add, before we have to close?
Andy Hillstrand: I'd just like to thank all the fans who have made the show so successful. Without them, nobody in America would know what we do for a living. And if you love the Time Bandit, you can go to www.timebandit.tv . We have a bunch of new clothing apparel, and cool stuff on the website. We appreciate everyone's support. Go Time Bandit!
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