Capt. Wild Bill Wichrowski's year started tragically.
A Navy veteran, Wichrowski is one of the captains on "Deadliest Catch,'' a Discovery Channel series about Alaska's crab industry. He was close friends with two of the five men who died when the Scandies Rose, a 130-foot crab boat, went down in icy, turbulent conditions in the Gulf of Alaska on New Year's Eve. Two crew members survived.
The Coast Guard's 20-hour search for survivors will be featured on "Deadliest Catch'' at 8 p.m. Tuesday (Eastern time).
"It's hard to drum all this up again, really,'' Wichrowski said. "You lose friends. You lose family. And the part that sticks is that any time, it could be you.''
Captain Wild Bill Wichrowski is in the wheelhouse at the helm of the Summer Bay.
The episode of the long-running reality series follows the Coast Guard's role from the time it received a distress call until the search, which covered 1,400 square miles, was suspended.
Although Wichrowski was not in contact directly with the Coast Guard during that time, he followed the rescue mission's progress closely.
"They're our lifeline,'' Wichrowski said. "Some of the stuff they do with the helicopters and the C-130s and the ships and the hard-bottom inflatables [boats] is truly amazing. The Coast Guard's our last chance for survival when we're having trouble.''
The investigation into the Scandies Rose disaster is ongoing and could last "many months,'' said Scott McCann, the Coast Guard's public affairs officer for the 17th District.
Captain Wild Bill Wichrowski stands proudly on deck of his boat.
Wichrowski's own ties to the military began early.
His father, Charles Thomas Wichrowski, was a drill instructor at Parris Island in South Carolina during the Korean War. The youngest of three brothers, Wichrowski said he did not always appreciate his strict upbringing in Pennsylvania.
"I probably didn't really like [my father] that much at the time, but he was training me to be a leader from Day One,'' Wichrowski said. "In his eyes, there was only one place to be, and that was in charge.''
Wichrowski's tour in the Navy happened almost by accident.
Before he wrecked his father's new car on homecoming night, he had planned to go to school and study business administration. The cost of the repairs, along with other financial constraints in his family, prompted Wichrowski to enlist in 1975.
Armed with a love of the ocean, he headed West. He served as an electrician's mate at naval stations in California, Idaho and Washington State.
Wichrowski enjoyed the camaraderie and travel in the military and proved to be invaluable in stressful situations. He recalled one time a typhoon in Taiwan knocked out a generator. Wichrowski ran to the other end of the tossed ship on a wall, hurdling people along the way, to work on it.
On another occasion in San Diego, Wichrowski was about to go on liberty when a transformer caught fire. He was not on duty, but he restored the power anyway, then left suddenly to meet his girlfriend before other potential issues arose.
"When I got back, the XO [executive officer] on the bridge, he had seen the whole thing,'' Wichrowski said. "And I'm thinking, 'Oh, I'm going to get my butt reamed.' But he said he was pretty amazed about how quickly I reacted.''
Wichrowski said the bonds of boat crews are similar to those in the military. Photo courtesy of Discovery.
Wichrowski, who served for four years, said what he learned in the Navy resonates today.
"It's the whole reason why I'm successful,'' he said.
The bonds formed among boat crews are not unlike those developed in the military. That's why the sinking of the Scandies Rose hit Wichrowski hard. He knew the boat's captain, Gary Cobban Jr., and engineer, Art Gacanias, well, but thankfully the loss of life was not worse.
Landon Cheney, Wichrowski's No. 2 man on the Summer Bay, used to work on the Scandies Rose and considered returning before it sank.
"I'm pretty certain that if he was on board, he wouldn't have made it,'' Wichrowski said.
As painful as the loss of the Scandies Rose remains, Wichrowski intends to watch Tuesday night.
"I hope to,'' he said. "… It should never be forgotten, but it's still tough to review over and over.''
Visit Deadliest Catch on Discovery for information on upcoming episodes.