The Wizard started out as a U.S. Navy yard oiler, built at the end of World War II, but never put into naval service. The boat sat mothballed in Boston Harbor until 1978 when she was purchased by fisherman John Jorgenson who oversaw her conversion into a crab boat that went to work in the Bering Sea fisheries the following year. Both Keith and Monte Colburn learned many of their crab captain skills while working for John on the Wizard. In 2005, Keith and his wife Florence purchased the vessel with the confidence that they could maintain the boat's consistently high production levels. These high yields are possible, in part, because of the large tanks inherited from her original construction.
Keith's sets the mood for the boat. The veteran deckhands are known for hazing anyone of lower rank, and the Wizard burns through greenhorns nearly every year. Expensive repairs, upgrades and deep debt put endless financial pressures on Keith, and this year he took a risk by installing an expensive new sorting table that still needs an extensive sea-test. In order to catch the crab, Keith will take enormous risks, such as fishing in huge weather and diving beneath his boat for repairs.
At the age of 22, Keith left behind his life as a Lake Tahoe ski bum to seek his fortune up north. He jumped on a plane with his best friend and landed in Kodiak, Alaska with no experience, a tent and $50. With only a hazy, but romantic vision of working at sea and the rumor of big paydays, Keith was determined to try something new and exciting. He started as a true greenhorn on the crabber Alaska Trader.
Keith was instantly hooked by the fishing lifestyle and the camaraderie of being part of a crew working together against the elements. While initially looking only for adventure in Alaskan waters, Keith decided to make it a career. In 1988, three years after he arrived, he became a full-share deckhand on the Wizard. He earned his US Coast Guard license in 1990 and moved from the deck to the pilothouse. Two years later, he received his masters (captain) license and has remained there as the skipper.
In 2002, Keith purchased the crabber Sirene (pronounced Sea-Wren), but continued to operate the Wizard. In 2004, he sold the fishing rights for the Sirene in a government run fleet reduction program. When this program led to a reduction of the crabbing fleet from 250 to 80 crabbers, Keith went ahead and purchased the Wizard to secure his stake in the crabbing industry.
He and his wife Florence have shared a special bond as partners in both life and business for more than 25 years. She manages much of the business end of their boat's operations and together they balance their time to raise their son Caelan and daughter Sienna.
Relief Captain Monte Colburn
Monte made his way north just two years after his older brother Keith, getting a crash course in crab fishing off remote St. Paul Island in the dead of winter. Monte's introduction to the Bering Sea took place on the deck of the crabber Juno, a partner vessel to the Alaska Trader that Keith was working on. Monte's first year in Alaska was a marathon that lasted 10 months before he took his first extended shore leave. From Monte's very first day in Alaska, his career has consisted of one adventure after another.
In 1988, he joined Keith aboard the Wizard as a full-share deck hand. A few years later, when Keith took over in the wheelhouse, Monte became deck boss. Monte earned his Coast Guard mate's license in 1992 and upgraded to a master's in 1995. By that time, Keith and Monte began operating the Wizard full time together as captain and relief captain/mate.
For a time, Monte took command of a succession of his own crab boats, giving him the opportunity to gain captain's experience and to operate his boats in partnership with Keith abroad the Wizard.
Monte's nickname may be "Mouse," but he's tough as nails. Last year, after Monte had two ribs broken during the famous "Wizard Wave," he was back on board in only two weeks. Competent at the helm, he hit paydirt last season on the notoriously difficult Baradai crab grounds while Keith was off.
Among his many maritime adventures, Monte took the helm of Keith's boat, the Sirene, to support an oil spill clean-up operation off the coast of Unalaska Island in the western Aleutians, not far from Dutch Harbor.
Gary has lived most of his life near the ocean. He moved to Alaska as a boy and began fishing early on. Deck-savvy and tough, Gary is skipper Keith's most reliable crewman. Known as "Soper" onboard the vessel, Gary is a full-time professional crabber, and currently serves as deck boss and first mate.
Gary has been with the boat for over 20 years. Early on, he worked as a deckhand alongside both Keith and Monte. More recently, he's in charge of deck operations and drives the boat at night when the Wizard operates round the clock. He also maintains and manages both the deck and the crab pots.
A bit grizzled and quiet, Soper is the consummate fisherman, wearing tattoos of a tall ship on one arm, and an anchor on the other. Capt. Keith sees the anchor as symbolic of what Soper represents on board: a solid dependable team player who has helped build the business with unwavering dedication. As a long-time crew member and friend, Gary is part of the heart and soul of the Wizard.
During the summer, Soper fishes salmon in Bristol Bay. His lifelong dream of sailing the world and providing for his wife and two children keeps him driven. That dream comes closer to reality with every good season onboard the Wizard This year, Soper is fighting financial pressure, and badly needs to make money. He's hoping for a huge haul.
Lenny was born and raised in Unalaska (a close neighbor of Dutch Harbor) before the days when air service and the Bering Sea fisheries turned Unalaksa-Dutch Harbor into the United States' top fishing port in the United States.
Lenny is a Native American Russian Aleut, whose family has deep roots on the island of Unalaska going back more than a century. The Aleut culture has a rich and diverse history of fishing along the Aleutian chain, and Lenny's family honors their heritage by smoking and drying salmon every year.
Raised as a devout Russian Orthodox, Lenny has a wife and daughter and a very large extended family. It's a challenge to go anywhere in Unalaska without running into one of the Lekanoffs, many of whom have lived their entire lives on the island.
The opportunities to fish professionally came early for Lenny, and for the last 25 years, he's made his living fishing the waters of the Bering Sea and the Aleutian Islands. A professional crabber, Lenny joined the Wizard crew after a previous vessel that he crewed on went out of business under the government-run buyback program.
Two years ago, Lenny retired because of his 17-year-old daughter, who was very worried about his safety out at sea. However, he came back to the Wizard to help Capt. Keith fill in a roster depleted by injuries. Now, he also hopes to help pay for his daughter's college tuition.
Onboard, Lenny is able to take charge of all the maintenance and upkeep of the ship's systems, from the engine room to the forepeak, and yet still put in a full shift as a deckhand.
Freddy was the superstar deckhand of the Cornelia Marie for years. His monstrous work ethic, good nature and loyalty to Phil Harris made him the heart of the Cornelia deck. Always upbeat, tough as coffin nails and knowledgeable, Freddy incorporates Samoan traditions into his fishing routine. He eats cod hearts and other fish organs "for strength," and shouts out native Samoan blessings to invoke the fishing Gods.
With such a close connection to the Cornelia Marie and Harris family, Freddy was deeply troubled by the the crew troubles in the 2010 King season. But when it was finally over, he decided he could no longer share the risk of the Cornelia Marie's uncertain future. He made his prodigious talents available to the fleet and Captain Keith quickly snatched him up.
Freddy will always carry a deep affection for the Harris boys and their boat. And it's probably safe to say that he'll never burn his bridges.
Lynn, the youngest crew member on the Wizard, was inspired by stories his fisherman father told him over the years about the king crab heyday in the 1970s. Lynn has been working the summer months out of Dutch Harbor with his uncle and father on halibut boats since he was 14 years old. He joined the Wizard for the 2007 king crab season in what was his first job during the winter months onboard a big boat in the Bering Sea.
A family friend of Lenny Lekanoff, Lynn was well aware that Lenny took a gamble by recommending him for the job. As if being a relative greenhorn aboard a boat full of seasoned veterans in the Bering Sea weren't enough, Lynn had the added pressure of worrying about not letting his family and friend Lenny down.
One of the few whipping posts to make it through the notorious Wizard greenhorn gauntlet, Lynn was upgraded to a full share deckhand during last year's king season. Lenny and the Wizard crew still don't plan to cut Lynn any slack. In Lenny's words, "If the kid's going to crack, I'm going to be the one to do it."
Lynn is a single guy, and spends a lot of time with his family in Olympia, Wash.