Jacques Cousteau had a vision to bring the beauty of the seas and oceans to the world. He spent his whole life working hard to ensure that people understand what is beneath this marvellous place to insure we take good care of it. One only wonders what Jacques would say today if he sees what has happened to a lot of the seas and oceans around the world.
On July 19, 1950, Jacques Cousteau bought a converted US minesweeper called Calypso. Calypso was, according to Greek myth, the nymph who held Ulysses captive on the island of Gozo for ten years. Today, the name is linked to another legend, that of the Cousteau ship. This floating legend is known throughout the world and sailed the ocean planet for nearly half a century to reveal its beauty and fragility. She is the symbol of human hopes to understand nature, the better to protect it.
Calypso left immediately for the shipyard in Antibes, France, where she was transformed into an oceanographic ship and a new Calypso was born. One of her many innovations was the ” false nose “, or underwater observation chamber built around the prow and equipped with eight portholes for viewing. Jacques Cousteau and his wife Simone also devoted a major part of their personal resources to the ship.
On November 24, 1951, the real adventure began. Calypso sailed from the Toulon arsenal, headed for the Red Sea to study corals. The crew brought back valuable topographic and photographic documentation and samples of theretofore unknown fauna and flora. Cousteau came back convinced that there was only one solution for understanding the sea: ” We must go see for ourselves. ” Calypso was the ideal tool for that challenge.
The Calypso Red Sea Expedition yielded numerous discoveries, including the identification of previously unknown plant and animal species and the discovery of volcanic basins beneath the Red Sea. In February of 1952, Calypso sailed toward Toulon. On the way home, the crew investigated an uncharted wreck near the southern coast of Grand Congloué and discovered a large Roman ship filled with treasures. The discovery helped spread Cousteau’s fame in France.
One of Jacques Cousteau’s big ventures was Conshelf Two, the first ambitious attempt for men to live and work on the sea floor. This was launched in 1963. In it, a half-dozen oceanauts lived 10 metres (33 ft) down in the Red Sea off Sudan in a starfish-shaped house for 30 days. The undersea living experiment also had two other structures, one a submarine hangar that housed a small, two man submarine referred to as the “diving saucer” for its resemblance to a science fiction flying saucer, and a smaller “deep cabin” where two oceanauts lived at a depth of 30 metres (100 ft) for a week. They were among the first to breathe a mixture of helium and oxygen, avoiding the normal nitrogen/oxygen mixture which when breathed under pressure can cause narcosis.
The undersea colony was supported with air, water, food, power, all essentials of life, from a large support team above. Men on the bottom performed a number of experiments intended to determine the practicality of working on the sea floor and were subjected to continual medical examinations. Conshelf II was a defining effort in the study of diving physiology and technology, and captured wide public appeal due to its dramatic “Jules Verne” look and feel. A Cousteau-produced feature film about the effort was awarded an Academy Award for Best Documentary the following year. Conshelf Two is still underwater today and can be dived to on any of our scuba diving trips to Sudan.
For 40 years, Calypso carried Captain Cousteau and his teams to explore all the riches and the fragility of the oceans. At once a vessel, an operations base and a home, the ship sailed from the warm waters of the Indian Ocean to the ice of Antarctica. She towed the Conshelf structures, sailed up the Amazon River, housed film teams and became the symbol of a world to be explored and cared for.