Cousteau's Calypso


Welcome aboard!

On board Calypso, life is harsh. This is not a pleasure cruise. Night and day, calm seas or raging storm, the ship must be tended, cleaned, piloted, maintained… From the hold to the helm, the crew works for the success of the expedition. A quick visit to the ship is called for.

After 46 years sailing all seas and oceans of the world, Calypso has become the symbol of Cousteau’s adventures. With Calypso in 1951, Captain Cousteau found a ship that would let him realize his vision: to use his inventions as a pioneer in unveiling the continental shelf. Calypso was transformed by Cousteau from top to bottom into an oceanographic vessel. So it is only right that, in her retirement, she should tell the story of her magnificent history, inseparable from that of Captain Cousteau.


From one legend to another

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.

Cousteau meets Calypso

In Malta, Jacques-Yves Cousteau discovered a former Royal Navy mine-sweeper that had been converted to a ferry and named Calypso. The ship was christened in 1942 but her first prosaic name, J-826, belied the exceptional life she would lead. To Cousteau, she was the ideal ship for his plan to explore the seas. Thanks to the financial help of Loël Guinness, the sale contract was signed on July 19, 1950. 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.

Much of the equipment was donated by the private sector, including many companies, and the French Navy. Jacques Cousteau and his wife Simone also devoted a major part of their personal resources to the ship.

First trials, first expedition

In June, 1951, Cousteau decided to put the ship in the water and run her first trials off Corsica. On board, the improvised crew was made up of a few friends. The whole Cousteau family made the trip: 12-year-old Jean-Michel and 10-year-old Philippe served as cabin boys.

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.

A film platform

In July, 1952, Calypso left Toulon for Marseilles. She shuttled back and forth to the little islet of Grand Congloué where the team was studying a shipwreck from the third century BC, lying 40 meters underwater. That was when a young Albert Falco joined the crew. Thousands of amphorae and pottery shards were brought to the surface and taken back to the Borely Museum and the Roman Docks Museum of Marseilles. During the summer of 1953, Calypso was used to test new underwater cameras and electronic flashes invented by Dr. Harold Edgerton that made it possible to photograph deep water animals, pushing the limits of underwater exploration. The ship was ready for the fantastic film and television adventure that lay ahead of her. These 42.35 meters of floating wood became a laboratory, a film studio and home to a crew of 28.

L’Odyssée du commandant Cousteau

In 1954, the ship left on expedition to look for oil, resulting in the discovery of a rich oil field in the Persian Gulf. The year 1955 saw the production of The Silent World, which later won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the Oscar. Calypso, by then famous, began a series of scientific cruises, studies and expeditions that would require further modifications to the ship. She was equipped with submersibles, a helicopter and all the tools needed for her mission. With her huge crane, bristling antennas and knobby underwater observation chamber, the ship looked like no other in the world and was known to everyone in the world.

The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau

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.

Breakdowns, hurricanes, storms, ice, sand banks—through them all, Calypso was the leading actress of the ” Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau “. She surmounted many an adventure and challenge. In the Suez Canal, she was almost sunk by mistake during the 1956 Egypt-Israel conflict.

A second life

It was three o’clock in the afternoon, in the port of Singapore, January 8, 1996, when a barge, in the process of being moved, seriously damaged Calypso just as she was about to depart for a Yellow River expedition. Her hull perforated, the grand old lady who had traveled through so many challenges heeled over and sank. The hearts of all her crew members over the years sank with her. It took 17 days to get the ship out of the water. Forever wounded, proud Calypso was now headed for one last mission: to bear witness for future generations of the extraordinary life of Captain Cousteau. Born of war, Calypso has become the messenger of peace and of protecting the water planet for future generations. Expeditions continued with her younger sister, Alcyone, daughter of the wind, launched in 1985.

Calypso Saved!

Calypso did not belong to the Equipe Cousteau when she was sunk in the port of Singapore. She was actually leased by Loël Guinness to Captain Cousteau and then to his organization. After her tragic sinking, she was brought back to France and sold to Equipe Cousteau for the symbolic sum of one franc by Loël Guinness’s grandson and heir, which precipitated a flurry of legal problems. Equipe Cousteau was finally recognized as owner of the vessel with full rights to undertake her restoration, which was begun on October 12, 2007.

Calypso restoration

The sturdy wooden minesweeper has seen many reincarnations – as a ferry, an oceanic research vessel, a television icon and a sad victim of a 1996 collision in Singapore. Restored, she will sail again as an Ambassador for the Seas and Oceans, as Captain Cousteau wished. Since the tragic collision in Singapour, Equipe Cousteau has fought to resurrect her as an inspiration for future generations and a platform for Education and Science, carrying the legacy of Captain Cousteau and the Cousteau flag all around the world.

Calypso has been awarded the label Boat of Heritage Interest (Bateaux d’Intérêt Patrimoniaux), by the French Maritime and River Heritage Foundation. The certification awarded for 5 years since January 2012, has just been officially announced by the Foundation. It is a great recognition for this floating legend which have sailed the world’s oceans. It is also an opportunity for a reminder on Calypso’s situation:

Calypso has been awarded the label Boat of Heritage Interest by the French Maritime and River Heritage Foundation. The certification awarded for 5 years since January 2012, has just been officially announced by the Foundation. It is a great recognition for this floating legend which have sailed the world’s oceans. It is also an opportunity for a reminder on Calypso’s situation:


Calypso II

Saving and protecting marine life for present and future generations since 1973