Eric_W's Reviews > Working on the Edge: Surviving In the World's Most Dangerous Profession: King Crab Fishing on Alaska's HighSeas

Working on the Edge by Spike Walker
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Nov 21, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: nautical-non-fiction

To maximize the sensation of coldness and wetness while reading Spike Walker's Working on the Edge you should really listen to Ralph Vaughn-Williams Antarctic Symphony. It captures the loneliness, hard work and intense cold of the crab industry off Alaska's Bering Strait shores. Walker's book is about the meteoric rise and precipitous fall of an industry which has an occupational mortality rate 20 times that of the coal mining industry. Working conditions were frightful. Crewmen had to muscle 750 lb. crab pots over icy decks in 40 – 80 knot winds with seas often running over 30 feet. They were constantly drenched with frigid water for periods of up to 40 hours with no rest. The rewards, however, were extraordinary. During the late 70's the king crab population simply exploded. In the peak year of 1980 the 130,000,000 lb. quota was filled in 29 days by some 230 crab boats (a record high.) A regular crewman pulling the standard full share of 7% of the boat's take might top $50,000 for those 29 days. He (or she) could then go on to fish for tanner crab and pull in additional enormous sums.

Walker was lucky. He had been working in the timber industry, got tired and heard they were hiring up in Alaska. He was a strong worker and despite a predilection for seasickness Learned to love the hard work. In fact, when back in the "lower 48" for a visit he was disgusted to find people whose only desire was to get out of work. He couldn't wait to get back to Alaska and its raw living on the edge. Raw living it was. Bar house brawls were common, and the vast amounts of cash attracted enormous amounts of cocaine. By the 1981 season, however, only 28,000,000 lbs. were taken, and in 1983 the season was totally closed. It was determined that crabs had succumbed to a disease that was making the majority of females sterile.

In between descriptions of how one baits a crab pot and the relative merits of various crew mates, Walker peppers his book with vivid descriptions of calamities and near deaths at sea. He interviewed many of these survivors for the book, and his retelling is spell-binding. From September 1982 through September I983, 68 vessels sank in Alaskan waters with 46 crewmen killed. Storms were ubiquitous and particularly vicious. You gotta be nuts. Great account for us Walter Mittys.
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Jessie Gussman I love the suggestion of companion music! I checked out your home page and laughed at your kids--'oh, Dad mowed the front yard twice so he could finish the chapter.' Hilarious!


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