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Able Seaman Ed "Catfish" Popowitz

Ed "Catfish" Popowitz is an Able Seaman on the Atlantis crew. He has been with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution since 1996, when he began on RV Atlantis' predecessor, RV Atlantis II. In 1998, one year after Atlantis was built, he joined that ship.

While he has worked on ships for many years, Catfish has had many other lives as well. He took some time after a recent mission in the Avon motorized raft to talk about his life both on ship and off.

"I'm from Massachusetts. I was born in Quincy, I grew up in Hanover, now I live in Middleboro. But of course I don't really live there much, because I'm at sea eight months a year."

"Before I worked for Woods Hole, I worked at construction jobs, and I was a roadie in rock bands. Mostly local ones you wouldn't have heard of, but a few bigger bands. That was great. Music was what I wanted to do with my life, back when I was in school, but then other things came along.

"You know, this job is a lot like being a roadie. You set up all kinds of technical stuff, get prepared for these important events, and then you go somewhere else and do it again. I see the scientists as like the musicians. You want to help them, and you're important for their projects.

"I can't say whether the scientists or musicians are harder to work with. With both you just have to form a good working relationship, and I've been lucky to have that with just about all the people I've worked with.

"There are some differences, of course. I used to get free concert tickets and backstage passes. Now I get free tickets to the New England Aquarium.

"This job is hard, definitely, because you can't let anything go. So much is riding on what you have to do. If one thing slides, the whole expedition can get slowed down or just messed up. So, it's hard, but it's great because we do so many different things. You're never bored, that's for sure.

"Another thing that's unique about this environment is that if you don't have something, you can't just go to Home Depot for it. You're on your own.

"And of course there are times when you're short of something. Or the scientists often ask us, 'Can you build up something·' So you improvise, you make do. We do pretty well with those situations.

"I'm Catfish because, well, I think I first got that name when I was a kid fishing and I caught a catfish. Then when I was a roadie I was Fast Ed. But when I started working on boats, I brought it back. A lot of people I still know in the music business still know me as Fast Ed.

"I have the 'Catfish' insignia on a lot of things. I have 50 or 60 t-shirts, my safety helmet, my safety vest, my foul weather gear. I have business cards with it, too.

"The thing is, I totally believe in self-promotion. Why should I promote something from someone else? Why should I put some other brand name, like Nike or something, on my t-shirt?

"Doing this for a living is great, but it's hard. Sometimes I think I want a longer-term relationship, a wife. But this work, when you're away from home so long, it's hard on relationships.

Still, I don't ever want to go to a 9-5 job, and drive to work. That might be normal for a lot of people, but it's not my "normal."

I've been able to go all over the world: England, Ireland, the Seychelles, Brazil, South Africa, Istanbul, Malta. My favorite places are Astoria, OR, San Diego, and Massachusetts of course.

"One thing I'm kind of known for is, I'm really into hamburgers. I know good cheeseburger places all over the world. I even bring my own ketchup. There's this place in South Africa, and we kept eating there because their burgers were great, but I didn't like their ketchup. So I gave them my good ketchup and had them keep it in the fridge in back for when I came in!

"Back in 1999 we went to Easter Island. That was so cool! I remember reading about that place when I was a kid, dreaming about going there. And then I went. I've been to Stonehenge, too.

"So, yeah, it'd be hard to give that up, even though I know I'm making sacrifices by doing this kind of work. People don't realize, when you go to sea for 120 days, you work every day. There are no sick days at sea, no weekends.

"In the end, though, this is a great ship. You're meeting new people because the scientist groups keep rotating. And Atlantis rides really smooth in the water. We've got a great DVD collection, a library, e-mail, a workout room, ping-pong.

"And the crew is great. There are so many experienced guys here. A lot of us live near Woods Hole, so when we're home we keep in touch: We're close as friends, not just as workers. The friendships help us work better as a team."



Originally published: June 10, 2003