Aye Calypso! We Sing to Your Spirit – Jacques Cousteau

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By Susan Fogel
There is no way we can have an edition dedicated to the Sea of Cortez (official name is the Gulf of California) without talking about Jacques Cousteau. The beloved French oceanographer dubbed our waters the “Galapagos of North America” because of the diversity of sea life.
Without his co-invention of the aqualung, we would not have SCUBA gear, and the mysteries of the deep would remain so. And without that invention, Cousteau would not have had the extraordinary life he lived…No invention, no money, no exploring. And Cousteau said, “…when one leads an extraordinary life, they must share it with the world…”
And we have heard and may have repeated it ourselves—that Captain Cousteau called these waters the “world’s aquarium.” How many of you grew up watching The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau on Sunday nights? Cousteau and his crew sailed the oceans of the world in their refitted World War ll minesweeper, Calypso. Calypso was the dream ship, she could go anywhere, do anything, including sailing in the Arctic. She was fitted with the latest technology. Oh, to be able to go below the surface in the little yellow submersible and use its robotic arms to collect specimens. Or to zip across the surface in the inflatable Zodiac to get close and personal with a whale!
Songs and poems have been written about her. John Denver sums it up in this refrain of his 1975 hit song, Calypso:
“…Aye Calypso the places you’ve been to,
the things that you’ve shown us,
the stories you tell.
Aye Calypso, I sing to your spirit,
the men who have served you so long and so well.
Over the years, Calypso anchored here in La Paz, and she was open to the public. My friend, Maria, recalls visiting the ship and bringing her collection of Cousteau’s books, which he autographed for her. Sadly, in 1996, Calypso was struck by a barge in Singapore harbor and sank. Cousteau died the following year. He often said a fitting fate for his beloved ship would be to have her scuttled.
In July, 1950, Cousteau leased Calypso from millionaire Leol Guinness, of the Irish brewery fame, for one franc a year. He was told by Guinness to never ask him for money, and to keep his name private. Guinness refitted Calypso to Cousteau’s specifications. In 2003, Calypso was raised and towed back to Marseille, then to La Rochelle, where it was to be restored and made into a museum.
Legal battles ensued between the children of Cousteau’s first wife, Simone, who died of cancer in 1990, and second wife, Francine, his sole heir and president of the Cousteau Society. www.cousteau.org. Leol Guinness Jr., grandson of the original owner has since sold Calypso to the Equipe Cousteau (Cousteau Society is the American name) for a symbolic one Euro.
In her 2009 visit to La Paz, Madame Cousteau dedicated the Jacques Cousteau Marine Observatory at Centro Investigaciones Biologicas del Noroeste (CIBNOR), wearing the Captain’s signature red watch cap. She presented then Governor Agundez a piece of the hull of Calypso. For someone that dreamed of sailing the oceans of the world on Calypso the opportunity to sit and talk privately with Francine (as she insisted I call her), was a lifetime highlight.
I asked her what she would like to tell the coming generations that have not been able to watch Jacques Cousteau every week on TV. She said: “First as a mother, I want to preserve and protect the Earth and her oceans for my children and their children. I want to bring Calypso back to La Paz and other places as an ambassador for the oceans.” She then said, “We all must do our part to protect the oceans for the future of our planet.”
Madame Cousteau was a flight attendant on the Concorde where she met the famous captain. They became lovers and had two children. Their relationship was secret until Simone Cousteau died. Shortly after that, Francine and Jacques were married.
Francine may have left a piece of Calypso in La Paz, but she did not leave empty-handed. In her office in France at Equipe Cousteau sits a lovely shell wreath made from shells collected from our local beaches. It was made by my friend, Mary Arreola, and presented to her when we met prior to the morning press conference. Later at the evening dedication ceremony, she thanked me again and said the shell wreath was going to Paris with her. It is a small token from two women that, as girls, loved the craggy Captain.
For more information about the Cousteau Marine Observatory visit: http://www.cousteau.org/environment/cousteau-marine-observatory-mexico
Susan Fogel is the broker/owner of  www.prestigepropertygrouplapaz.com. You can follow her blog at www.mexicmusings.com
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