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Originally published April 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 28, 2009 at 6:30 PM

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Fans reel in autographs, answers from "Deadliest Catch" captains

For fans of the Discovery Channel's hit show, "Deadliest Catch," Saturday's gathering on Pier 66 in Seattle was like a Trekkie convention, with three times the testosterone and lots of bawdy talk. Folks from as far away as Texas, Louisiana, Indiana, Maryland and the United Kingdom attended.

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For fans of the Discovery Channel's hit show "Deadliest Catch," Saturday's gathering on Pier 66 in Seattle was like a Trekkie convention, with three times the testosterone and lots of bawdy talk.

Folks from as far away as Texas, Louisiana, Indiana, Maryland and the United Kingdom descended on Seattle's waterfront to shake hands with their favorite captain and to check out the deck of his ship.

Nearly 500 people attended the inaugural CatchCon, with about 1,000 more relegated to a waiting list. The fans who got in were as young as 18, as old as 71.

After signing the obligatory liability waivers, they toured the Wizard and the Northwestern, and lined up 40 deep for autographs from captains Keith Colburn, Andy Hillstrand, Johnathan Hillstrand, Phil Harris and Sig Hansen.

The captains, who make their living catching crab on the Bering Sea, took the stage and fielded questions.

One woman approached the microphone and said: "Me and my husband love you. We think you're adorable." To which one captain whispered to another, "Stalker."

With the show in its fifth season, the captains have gotten used to this. But if they're celebrities, they're approachable celebrities, as fans talked of running into one captain or another in some bar in Ballard, or at 13 Coins restaurant.

If nothing else, their appeal shows the constant shift in what it is to be a star. Kids used to dream of swinging a bat. Then it was slinging a guitar.

Now, for fans of "Deadliest Catch," it's dropping pots, letting them soak and pulling 'em in, to see if you're on the crab.

How strong is the captains' appeal? Harris recounted how one woman told him that when she's being, uh, intimate with her husband, she likes to gaze upon Harris' picture.

Marja Stevens, a fan from Whidbey Island, has watched the show from season one.

Asked what draws her, she says, "The thrill, the risks they take, it's almost unreal." Her favorite captain is Johnathan Hillstrand.

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"I call him my future ex-husband," she says. She even has a favorite deckhand, Russell Newberry.

Gina Chalcroft came down from Juneau, Alaska, for the convention. Asked about the show's appeal, she made it simple: "It's about men working." Plus, she said, "A number of the guys are easy on the eyes."

With its mix of 40-foot rogue waves, Arctic storm fronts and tension among crew members, the show creates real drama with real consequences.

"You screw up, you die. That's the ultimate stakes," said Jeff Conroy, the show's executive producer.

After signing autographs for an hour, the captains took a smoke break.

"It blows me away," Andy Hillstrand said of the fans' devotion to the show. "The guys love it because it's a man's man's job. And the girls love it because we're stinky, I guess."

You feel like a rock star, he's asked.

"A rock star without the money," he said. "You got it."

Ken Armstrong: 206-464-3730 or karmstrong@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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