Mission & Objectives
Scientists & Crew
Bob "Yogi" Elder
Yogi in the Control Van flying the DSL-120 sonar fish. Mike Perfit,
the watch leader is looking at the real-time sonar display that is on the computer monitor at the right edge of the photo.
Have you always lived on the east coast?
I was born in San Francisco, but we moved to the east coast when I was
two years old. My father was in the Navy, so we moved around a lot --
Washington D.C., Ohio, Tennessee, Massachusetts. By we,
I mean my parents and my younger brother, Bill.
making adjustments to the DSL-120 sonar. The yellow blocks
next to his head are pieces of syntactic foam flotation
that help make the sonar fish neutrally buoyant at depth.
It must have been hard moving around so much and having to leave your friends
behind every time. What made you happiest when you were a child?
For as long as I can remember, I loved to tinker with things to see how they
worked, to take them apart and put them back together, and to build things from
scratch. Once I built a flying saucer spaceship out of a picnic table. That was
fun, even though it never got off the ground.
Sounds like you were born to be an engineer! What did you do when you finished
I went to college for 3 years in Georgia, at Southern Tech, and learned a lot
about electronics among other things. Then I joined the Navy for 4 years, and
was assigned to a destroyer tender ship (a support ship that travels with a naval
destroyer ship). Our assignment was to fix anything that broke on the destroyer.
I received additional training in electronics, and learned a lot about radar
technology and cryptology instrumentation (devices used to code and decode messages
transmitted to and from the destroyer when it is at sea). In my Navy classes,
I was a top student, and that built up my confidence in my abilities.
Did you get to see much of the world when you were in the Navy?
Oh yes! I really liked that! Our ship put into many domestic and foreign ports,
including Long Beach and San Diego, CA, Hawaii, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore,
and the Philippines. When we were in San Diego, I decided to check out a sailing
class at the Coronado Sailing Club. That's how I met Peggy -- she was taking
the same class. When I went back out to sea, we wrote to one another, and when
I got out of the Navy, I stayed in San Diego and eventually we got married. Weve
now been married for 22 years and have 2 children, Kris and Genoa, 16 and 18
years old respectively.
Is that when you became a marine engineer?
No -- first I went to work for Burroughs (now Unisys), a very large company
that designed and built mainframe computers. I worked with a small group of
people in Rancho Bernardo, CA, doing research on bubble memory modules for
computers. I enjoyed working with a small number of co-workers to design something
useful. After working there for two years, I enrolled in San Diego State University.
Two years later, I graduated with a B.S. degree in electrical engineering.
By then, I had decided that I wanted to either pursue marine engineering, or
work in the film industry on the technology of special effects for science
fiction movies. The Star Wars films had just come out. I never forgot how much
fun it was to build that flying saucer! But I never could make connections
to the right people in the movie business. So, I called every firm in Sorrento
Valley, CA, whose name had something to do with the ocean. I guess my love
of sailing and my experience in the Navy had gotten me interested in ocean
exploration technology. One of the firms I called said that they thought the
Marine Physical Lab (MPL) at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla,
CA, might be looking for someone with my skills. I called Scripps, and in late
1980, I was interviewed for a position as an engineer with the Deep Tow Group
(Deep Tow is a towed ROV developed by MPL in the early 1970's,
and back then it could be considered a prototype for the Argo vehicle we are
using now). It was pouring rain when I went for my interview. I showed up on
time with my rain gear on. Dr. Fred Spiess, the MPL director, must have liked
it that I was prompt and well-prepared -- there were 40 applicants, but I got
the job. I worked with the Deep Tow Group until 1987. Then Bob Ballard hired
me to work as an engineer at the Deep Submergence Lab of Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institution. I couldnt pass up the chance to help develop Argo and Jason
into useful scientific research tools. Ive been doing this for the past
12-13 years now.
What do you like the best about it?
I really love being part of a small group, doing something important, making
it possible for scientists to explore and study the ocean floor. I especially
enjoy the close relationships I develop with the people Im working with,
and am delighted by the resourcefulness of people when they are confronted with
challenging problems -- both technical and scientific- that they must solve with
whatever tools, supplies, and information are available to them on the ship.
(left) and PJ Bernard preparing Argo II for its next lowering.
What is the hardest part about your job?
I miss my family...but then its so great when I see them again after a
long sea trip!
What do you think were the keys to your success in this line of work?
Oh -- having a dream, developing a plan, and pursuing that plan with perseverance.
I have one last question -- how did you get the nickname Yogi?
When I first started at WHOI in 1987, I wanted to get a reputation as someone
who got involved in things, rather than as someone who sat on the side lines
and let things happen. Peggy and I co-chaired the WHOI summer picnic in 1988.
One day at work, someone asked where I was and Billy Lange responded with Oh,
Yogi (after the cartoon character Yogi Bear), he is out doing his picnic thing. The
name stuck. One of the side effects of that nickname is that when people work
with me for a long time, they end up being called Booboo.
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