Jacques Cousteau's Calypso Heads to Shipyard

The Calypso's hull, tarped and ready for transport (courtesy Cousteau Society)

By The Maritime Executive 03-15-2016 09:04:37

Two decades after the sinking that took her out of service, Jacques Cousteau's research vessel Calypso has been loaded onto the 4,000 dwt heavy lift ship Abis Dusavik for transport to a Turkish yard, where she is to be fully restored.

The Cousteau Society, the custodian of the vessel and of Jaques Cousteau's legacy, made careful plans for the successful transfer of her fragile structure. Calypso has fallen into disrepair, and only her hull, frames and planks remain (though the Society has components of her superstructure in storage). A centipede crawler carried her and her cradle to the quay, where the Dusavik’s cranes lifted her aboard. 

She will next travel to Istanbul. The Society considered a range of repair facilities, and says that yards in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea (Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Albania, Montenegro and Lebanon) are where the traditional technology of wooden ship building can still be found. They selected a Turkish specialist associated with an American company for the job, which they estimate will take about two years and 10 million euros. A “group of generous and highly motivated international sponsors” are funding the project.

Once she is restored, with new engines, new electronics and all the outward appearances of her old self, the Society intends to return her to service once more.

The wooden-hulled, 300 grt Calypso started life as a minesweeper; her keel was laid in Seattle 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 her transfer to Cousteau.

Cousteau refitted her for oceanographic research, and with the Calypso's voyages, he brought marine science to popular awareness with his long-running television series The Undersea World of Jaques Cousteau.

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 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; the museum's director told the Guardian in 2003 that he would like to see her scuttled.

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 the yard's owners sought a court order for her removal, plus payment for storage fees and work completed. The Society has not commented on the status of the dispute, but with the Calypso's departure, it appears that at least one aspect of the disagreement has been resolved.