Steve Leen, who sailed The Wizard, a boat featured on the Discovery Channel’s show “Deadliest Catch,” holds up a brown crab. (submitted image)

Steve Leen is the chief mechanical engineer for a commercial fishing boat in Alaska. Also an inventor and entrepreneur, he holds a patent for a soccer ball juggling trainer called Zero G. A world traveler, he cares most about being with his two daughters, his two stepsons and his wife, Tracyn Thayer. Out of contact for over 30 years, they married last September. “Besides the birth of my kids,” Leen says, “reconnecting with Tracyn has been the best thing I have ever done.”

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I was raised in Cumberland until I was 11. Then I moved back and forth between Cumberland and New Gloucester.

In my early childhood, I was always outdoors, except for sleeping. Sometimes I was riding a bike. Sometimes I was jumping off of things. Sometimes I was just being inquisitive.

In my teens, I worked in Lovell for my uncle at Thurston’s Garage doing small engine repair. I built my first car, a 1954 Willys Jeep, from scratch there using three scrap jeeps.

My neighbor across the street was a student at Maine Maritime Academy. He drove a ’69 VW Beetle when he was a junior and an Audi Quarto when he was a senior. That’s all it took. I decided Maine Maritime was where I wanted to go. I was a hellion of sorts. I did things like drive muscle cars. I kind of knew I needed the discipline I would get there.

I graduated from Greeley High School in 1987 and went that fall. The Coast Guard issues Maine Maritime’s license, so it was “yes, sir,” “no, sir,” shaved heads and uniforms. The education was hands-on. I found it to be excellent.

Sophomore year I trained on a Mobil Oil tanker. I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend my entire life at sea, so I decided to major in mechanical engineering, which gave me the ability to also work on land.

I graduated in the early ’90s and started working on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. I didn’t like the schedule of four months on and two months off, so in 1992, I got a job in Alaska and started working as a chief engineer aboard commercial fishing vessels in the Bering Sea.

The chief engineer is the guy who fixes diesel engines, generators, hydraulics, pneumatics, radar, the coffee maker and the main engine and everything in between. When you’re at sea you have to be very creative at times.

After a decade of doing that, I moved to Maine and started a family. During that time, I worked on tugboats in New York Harbor. Our job was 24/7. We assisted ships coming into the harbor. It was 12 weeks on and two weeks off, which was much more conducive to having kids.

In 2002, I left the tugboat job and moved to Costa Rica with my family to start a sport fishing operation and build a hotel and marina. We did that until 2006, spending November to May in Costa Rica, and May to November in Maine.

I then went back to working as a chief engineer on tugboats. I worked with the same captain, mate, and deckhand for almost the entire 10 years I was there.

When I started, my girls were 4 and 6. When I finished, they were 14 and 16. It was a great schedule. I didn’t miss entire basketball or soccer seasons. I could be around.

In 2016, when my daughters started looking at colleges, I went back to Alaska. I changed from working on longliners to working on trawlers.

We are a catch boat. It is 155 feet long, but it seems small in 25-foot seas. There are six people on the boat: the captain, the mate, two deckhands, myself as chief engineer and an assistant engineer.

We catch our wild-caught Alaskan pollock with nets and deliver it every two or three days to Trident Seafoods, a shore plant in Akutan, Alaska. It is processed into fish fillets and sold to McDonald’s and Burger King.

We fish the Aleutian Chain, which extends from Alaska to Russia. Unlike the rest of Alaska, there are volcanoes and lots of treeless, barren, rugged land. The fishing ports, Dutch Harbor being the biggest, are remote and treeless. There is an abundance of eagles and some otters and sea lions, but it’s a harsh environment.

The pollock fishery is the best-managed fishery in the entire world. Our two seasons go from Jan. 1 until mid-April, and from June 1 until the end of August. We catch on a quota system. Even though last year we caught 30 million pounds of pollock, we only touch 15% of the biomass and means harvest less than that.

We have a government observer on the boat who is a marine biologist. He observes every netting and collects data on things like what sex the fish are and how much none-targeted fish is caught and then sends the data to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

I have my own stateroom with my own bathroom. A deckhand cooks one prepared meal a day at 5:30. For other meals, you fend for yourself. When you can’t fry an egg because the boat is rocking and rolling, you make scrambled.

Fishing in Alaska is considered the most deadly job in the United States. Seas average nine to 13 feet and more. We stop fishing in 25- to 30-foot seas, but generally speaking, we are most often on the edge of that, especially in the winter.

It’s like having someone trying to push you over the entire day. The element of using 40% of your energy just to stand up and perform your job makes it difficult. We have safety equipment, and the Coast Guard has ships and helicopters there, but with no days off and no sick days, it can be draining.

I pride myself on being able to fix anything and being able to keep the boat running and fishing, but it’s a huge responsibility, especially in bad weather. When something goes wrong, you are at the mercy of nature. It’s not for the faint of heart.


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