The research vessel Calypso is to ocean explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau what the iconic Fallingwater home is to architect Frank Lloyd Wright: the inspired and inspirational creation of a visionary man. The specially outfitted, 139-foot Calypso transported Cousteau and his team on oceanic expeditions for more than four decades. (Today, Wright’s iconic Fallingwater is a National Historic Landmark and hosts residency programs led by professional architects.)
Calypso sailed from the warm waters of the Indian Ocean to the ice of Antarctica, towed the Conshelf structures, sailed up the Amazon River and down the Mississippi, and explored the waters of the Sea of Cortez, Galapagos, New Zealand, Marquesas and French Polynesia. In short, says the Cousteau Society, aboard Calypso, Capt. Cousteau “left his mark forever on the planet and the oceans.”
Through it all — “breakdowns, hurricanes, storms, ice, sand banks” — the research vessel Calypso was both operations base and home to Cousteau and his team. One of its many innovations was its “false nose,” an underwater observation chamber that protruded from the prow. Nestled inside, researchers could peer through portholes to observe marine life. Other inventions on board included one- and two-man mini submarines, a diving saucer named Denise and underwater scooters.
Calypso sank in 1996 — a year before Cousteau died of a heart attack at his Paris home — in Singapore when a barge accidentally rammed into it as it was departing for an expedition along the Yellow River in China; for 20 years, efforts to restore the vessel were beset by problems. In January, however, the Society announced that Cousteau’s beloved ship would sail again. The vessel was transported to a Turkish shipyard for restoration in March. The project is expected to take about two years and $11 million for completion, according to the Maritime Executive.
The vessel was docked at a shipbuilding yard in Brittany, France, for repairs in 2007, but legal issues over repair payments prevented the family’s organization, Equipe Cousteau, from completing the work. Equipe Cousteau reached a settlement and agreed to pay the shipyard roughly $327,000.
The Cousteau Society announced in January that the money was raised through public contributions. For updates on Calypso’s restoration progress, visit cousteau.org.
Did You Know?
A former Royal navy minesweeper christened in 1942 as HMS J-826; in 1949, the ship was converted to a ferry and renamed Calypso. Cousteau purchased the vessel in 1950.
By 1953, Calypso was turned into a floating film studio as well as a research vessel. In 1955, The Silent World was produced during a 13,800-mile journey; later, the film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and an Oscar from the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.