Jaques Cousteau's Calypso Looks Set to Sail Again

Courtesy the Cousteau Society

By MarEx 2016-01-11 19:39:04

The Cousteau Society, custodian of oceanographer Jacques Cousteau's legacy and the owner of the Calypso, his famous research vessel, have announced that they have secured the means to restore her and take her back out to sea.

The wooden-hulled, 300 grt Calypso started life as a minesweeper. Her keel was laid in Seattle, Washington at the start of World War II, and she was provided to the British Royal Navy for operations in the Mediterranean. She was decommissioned at the end of the war and served briefly as a mail boat before purchase and transfer to Cousteau.

Cousteau refitted the boat for oceanographic research and brought marine science to popular awareness with his long-running television series The Undersea World of Jaques Cousteau and the award-winning films The Silent World and World Without Sun.

But in 1996 – as Cousteau was looking to replace her with a new, modern and efficient Calypso II – the Calypso was rammed by a barge at harbor in Singapore and sank. She was raised a week later, patched and transported to La Rochelle, France, where she remained in the custody of the city's maritime museum for years.

Olivier Bernard/Wikimedia Commons

Museum director Patrick Schnepp told the Guardian in 2003 that the Calypso was in poor condition, and that following years of a complex custody battle between her owners and Cousteau's family he would like to see her scuttled. "Everything that's not broken is rotten, and everything that's not rotten is broken," he said.

She was transferred to the Concarneau shipyard in Britanny in 2007 for renovation into a stationary floating museum. But further disagreement with her owners on the scope of her refurbishment led to a work stoppage in 2009, and in 2014 the yard's owners sought a court order for her removal, plus payment of 300,000 euros for storage fees and work completed.

The hull of the Calypso at Concarneau (Wikimedia commons credit Calypsoforever)

The disagreement now appears to be resolved. Cousteau Society says that it has “[gathered] a group of generous and highly motivated international sponsors, whose objectives are compatible with those of the Cousteau Society. At the end of the first trimester of 2016 Calypso will be able to leave the Concarneau’s shipyard, to begin its new life . . . Restored, she will sail again as an Ambassador for the Seas and Oceans, as Captain Cousteau wished."

Captain Patrice Quesnel, the master of the Society's expedition vessel Alcyone and the designated manager for the Calypso's release, has recently been holding conversations with vendors and authorities in Britanny. He suggests that Volvo will be providing her new engines and the Guip shipyard in Brest is in talks related to her refurbishment. “I am . . . certain that the enthusiasm sparked by the fantastic news of the ship’s rebirth will help him to find all the necessary support from those he will be working with,” said Society president Francine Cousteau.