Captain Phil Harris, the late star of Discovery’s Deadliest Catch, led most of his adult life on the Bering Sea, fishing for crab and teaching the trade to his sons Josh and Jake. When he came ashore, Harris spent his time riding motorcycles and bonding with friends.
Fittingly, his loved ones have incorporated all these parts of the skipper’s life into a series of tributes for the fallen fisherman, who died at the age of 53 on Feb. 9.
“There was a private memorial for friends and family of Phil Feb. 21, at the Tulalip Resort Casino,” says Harris’s business partner and manager Russ Herriott. The same casino, a 30-minute drive north of Seattle, was the gathering spot for those close to Harris in the immediate days after he died as well.
“When everybody gets together, we didn’t want to make it really sad,” Jake Harris says. “So we picked somewhere the old man loved to go, and hopefully we will tell stories about what a good life he led.”
In the spring, Discovery Network and the Harris family may honor the captain at Catch-Con, a Deadliest Catch fan festival, in Seattle. “The show was so public and he always loved the fans,” says Josh, “and we’re going to blow it up there.
The same week, it’s Fisherman’s Memorial Week, honoring all the fallen fishermen that year, and there’s a big Harley ride around that time, too. He’s big into Harleys, so I expect to see a 500-plus bike ride out to honor the old man.”
As for Harris’s remains, which were cremated, “we’re going to put half of him with his mother [Phyllis],” explains Josh. “That’s going to be strictly a family deal, and then the other half is going to go and be spread out in the Bering Sea, with all the people he fished with his whole life.”
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The vessels in which Harris’s remains will be carried – split Harley Davidson gas tanks – were also specially designed for Phil, at the request of Phil’s father Grant and Phil’s best friend Dan Mittman, by airbrush artist Mike Lavallee, who had done artwork on Phil’s custom Titan chopper.
“When you pick both tanks up at the same time through the front loops, the bellies of the tanks hit each other and they form a heart,” says Lavallee. “It’s a heart-shaped motorcycle tank now, and I thought, how perfect is this, we will do half of it as ‘Phil the crab fisherman,’ and half ‘Phil the family man’ and what he used to do for fun, riding his motorcycles and gambling, whatever he wanted to do. So that one half will be buried with his mother and the other part will be blown up at sea.”
For the designs, “On the fisherman side, the portrait I picked of him is more serious and rough-looking because it’s serious business on the Bering Sea,” Lavallee says. “I’ve got the Cornelia Marie and some rough sea. The other side is a picture I picked up of him signing autographs and he turned to someone and he’s laughing. I’ve got his dog on there, and him riding his motorcycle that I painted for him.”
The Bering Sea ceremony, friends say, will be performed in October at the beginning of the king crab season. “That’s the way that he wanted to go out there,” Josh says, “and we’ll lay his crab necklace out there in the ocean with his ashes.”
Phil Harris will continue to be featured on episodes of Deadliest Catch when the show’s sixth season begins in April.