That title describes my next blog perfectly. I want to tell you about my good friend Phil Harris. Phil, as most of you know was one of the captains on The Discovery channel’s Mega Hit show “THE DEADLIEST CATCH”. He was the captain of the CORNELIA MARIE. I had wanted to meet him for a while and could never seem to find him even though he (as I found out later) lived about 5 miles from my shop! My chance to meet him finally came one day curiously enough through my work. I was introduced to him by the then sales manager of a local Harley Davidson shop. He came to my shop to talk about doing a mural job on his TITAN motorcycle chopper. I was at first a little star struck but shortly after that started to think of him only as “Phil” in fact, we became so close as friends I actually felt like I knew him my whole life. we soon were flipping each other shit and joking and laughing all the time. whenever he would get tired of all the attention he would come and hide at the shop and visit us. Nic especially loved him. she said Phil reminded her of her dad who she doesn’t get to see as much as she’d like because he lives so far away. when Phil would come in she would get her ” fix” of stand-in dad love. he would come in and say “How’s it goin’ darlin?” smile and give her a huge bear hug and chat for a while. he was always like a cat on a frying pan though. hardly ever sitting still, drinking one of our energy drinks and smoking a cigarette! Phil was the ONLY person allowed to smoke in my shop. he would always go outside to smoke when he was smoking more than usual and if you were in a conversation with him you had to follow him outside to continue it! Phil had a heart as big as the Bearing Sea. he would constantly bring me projects to paint. his bike, corvette, big truck, even his R/C boat he would run on Lake Conner. I also did his dads 56 pickup. he even was working with Discovery to get me my own show! at his memorial I can’t count how many people told me he would talk about me all the time. “he really loved you guys” they would say. Phil wanted his bike to have a pirate theme but in his words he wanted his pirate to look like a, “real “pirate not some fucking pretty boy hollywood pirate!” that statement was followed by his all to familiar gravelly laugh! Muhahhaahaha! he left the details up to me and when the time came to check my progress he stopped in. but , not just him! no! it was Phil, Josh, Jake, their sister, Scotty Hilstrand ( from the TIME BANDIT), and his friend! holy crap! what an enterage. when they walked into the booth and saw the parts their eyes bulged out of there heads and Phil had a smile from ear to ear! there was a whole lot of HOLY F&%#’s going off around the booth. pointing and smiling hahahaha, I love that part! to say he was thrilled is an understatement! and when he discovered the salty old pirate with the knife scar across his face and nose complete with a cataract in one eye and a gold earing he lost it! THAT’S ……FUCKING……PERFECT!!!!!!!!!!!! “It’s like you read my mind and put it on that tank!” ” you little shit! Muhahaha! come here!” he then shook my hand and gave me a huge hug. SO you like it? I said? hahahaha! he just said I don’t know how you did that! that’s crazy! and that was the way it was with Phil from the time I met him till the end.
I told people that these guys aren’t just characters on a show we love to watch, they’re our friends! and if anything happened to them it would be way more personal to us! I always worried that they would sink to the bottom of the cold ocean. what a terrible way to go! not only him but his crew and especially his two sons.
when he would get ready to leave for the new Crabbing season he would always stop by and say goodbye. we missed seeing him and hearing from him when they where out at sea. we worried about them too.
When he was leaving this season I made sure that I called him while he was on his way to the airport and wished him luck and told him to be careful out there and that we would see him when he got back. he said “OK Buddy!” Little did I know those would be the last words I’d ever hear him say. While off loading crab Phil suffered a massive stroke. it was Josh who found him on the floor of his state room. 11 long hours later the life flight came to fly him to Ankorage. the doctors put him in an induced comma to relieve the pressure on his brain, 4 days later they brought him out of it. the doctors couldn’t believe how well he was doing. he even was able to watch the Super Bowl. he was supposed to be moved to Seattle for recovery.
I was the one who got the news that day. it came from an unlikely source, my friend at the welding shop next door. Shawn came in and said “sorry to hear about Phil” I said “what? ‘he’s in recovery and doing ok!” “No Mike, I just got a call from my son a few minutes ago, he spoke directly with Jake, it’s true” Oh My god! this can’t be true I thought! Nic was on the phone with a customer and I tried to get her off the phone to tell her. I wasn’t good, let me tell you! I actually found out before Grant, his own father! I had to tell him! that was terrible!
after all the shock of the news wore off a bit I got a phone call from the family. It was Phil’s best friend Dan who was with him when he died. “Mike, you said if there was anything you could do for the family we should just ask”. “what can I do? ” I asked. “we want you to paint Phil’s urns.” was the answer. “We want you paint two Harley Sportster tanks for him, Discovery wants to film it.” I was shocked! this is a huge deal for Phil’s family and myself. ” I would be honored to do it” I said. To tell you the truth the filming part really didn’t mean much to me but the chance to honor my friend did. I looked around for some used sporty tanks but could only find “Coffin Tanks” tanks shaped like old fashion coffins. Not gonna cut it. too creepy for me. it was then I remembered I had a set of older Harley tanks in my loft storage and they where already in primer! so I went upstairs to get them down . they are the older split type tanks with the typical teardrop shape to them. flat on the bottom and rounded on the front tapering down to the rear. they have mounting rings on the front sides of the tank.
when I found the tanks I picked both of them up with my right hand from the bottom rings at he same time. when I lifted them up the flat bottoms came together with a clang! I looked at them and got goosebumps all over my arms and a chill up my spine! When the two tanks came together they formed a perfect heart! Holy shit! I immediately knew what I wanted to do! Phil’s favorite color was red, perfect for the heart shaped urns! The whole reason for the two tanks was that half his ashes would be buried with his mother, and the other half would be brought up the the Bearing Sea at the opening of crab season and literally Blown Up! spreading his ashes over the water! ( this is still being debated over).
So armed with this new inspiration I knew exactly what I was going to paint! on the left half of the heart I painted Phil smiling while he was signing autographs. I wanted this half to be the Land lubber Phil and Phil the son and father. I had him riding his Titan motorcycle, Josh, Jake,and Grant. I put his little Yorkie Terrier “gizmo” on there as well. He loved black jack and craps, so I painted cards and dice. he also was a QVC addict! hahaha buying Carson city silver dollars and gems! so on they went. on the right tank I painted Phil the crab boat captain. all serious with a gruff expression and folded arms. above him was the Cornelia Marie fighting a stormy sea. I also put an Icon of Dutch Harbor on there as well, the russian orthodox church complete with a bald eagle perched on the cross above the domed roof. all the artwork was done monochromatic tone on tone all in various shades of red. and as an added touch to salute my good friends passing, his life and friendship I painted a king crab leg and claw busting through the tank holding up a “duckfart” as a toast from the Bearing sea and the crabs he searched for his whole life.( this is for those of you who don’t follow the show, is a drink all the captains toast the upcoming and closing of crab season with. It is famous up there in Dutch. its Bailey’s Irish Cream, Kahlua, and Crown Royal) This is my favorite part of the tanks artwork! on the left side I painted a ribbon the read “Swift Journey”on the left side, and “Safe Passage” (a nautical term) on the right side.
when the two pieces come together the arwork forms everything that was Phil Harris and it flows seamlessly from the left to the right. I have to tell you I worked hard on the tanks for two days straight late into the night. the artwork just poured from my hands and I’m not ashamed to say tears flowed from my eyes at the same time. I was without a doubt the hardest thing I ever had to do. When I was finished I just looked at the tanks, I wondered how Phil would have like them then I thought the words ” Fucking perfect” just what Phil would have said. when the family saw the tanks I got the same jaw dropping reaction as before minus the swearing and smiles. the look in Josh and Jake’s eyes said it all. I had the boys sign the tank by their pictures. Nic put her own personal message to her friend Phil. ” Phil , you will always have a special place in my heart! XOXO She misses him terribly and she misses his hugs. I also wrote ” Phil thanks for the friendship, I’ll miss you! ” everytime I hear a harley pull up to the shop with the radio blairing I think , Oh, Phils here….then I remember he won’t be coming through that door again. We do however get to see the boys and Grant from time to time. and Dan pops in for a visit to see how things are going too.
watching the whole drama unfold lately on the show is hard to watch but I can’t help but watch. I know what’s coming and it’s gonna be tough for a lot of fans to see. remember Phil. we were so lucky to have him in our lives! rest in peace Swift Journey, Safe Passage my friend.