Jacques Yves Cousteau: A Sailor Remembered

By Don Walsh

His advice was rather blunt. "Leave the Navy. Eventually the bureaucracy will kill any real progress." He believed that on the "outside" one could travel further and faster by organizing one's own enterprise and making one's own rules.

Meetings with JYC were always a pleasure; never boring. In the early 1970s we shared a splendid meal, drinks, and cigars at his Monaco apartment above the harbor. I had to literally speak for my supper. He had called Radio Monaco and proposed we do a live interview from his apartment. To say the least, my college-level French was strained beyond the breaking point. Fortunately, JYC was more amused than horrified.

On a later occasion I had gone to Marseilles to see Agryronette at his Center for Advanced Marine Studies (CEMA was the new version of his old OFRS), After looking at the nearly completed pressure hull and drawings of the concept, Cousteau invited me for coffee on board Calypso, moored nearby. Shortly after we sat down, a group of school children trooped aboard for a televised meeting with "the captain," and I was enlisted as co-host for the impromptu production. My linguistic abilities were no better this time, but the kids didn't seem to mind.

During the 1980s I served six years with the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere in Washington, D.C. There I would occasionally intersect with Cousteau's trajectory as he swept through the Capitol to advise the President, members of Congress, or anyone else of influence who would listen to his increasing concerns about the health of the world ocean. He always was a refreshing voice.

Regrettably, in the 1990s, my meetings with JYC were much less frequent. In his later years it seemed that his crusade for the oceans forced him to travel much more than he wished. Staring at the airplane seatback in front of him must have been an extremely poor substitute for being at sea on board his beloved Calypso. But he was a man with a message, and a message that only he could deliver.

Jacques Yves Cousteau was a man who brought ocean awareness to more than two generations and tens of millions of children and adults worldwide. Because of him, "everyman" could now know something about the word ocean. Future generations will continue to enjoy and be educated by the massive body of film, television, and printed work that he created in his four score and seven years as the world ocean's principal spokesman. The Cousteau Society continues his work. It is this body of work that is his real epitaph, and testament to a seaman's life well lived. I was glad to have known him.

 

Dr. Walsh is neither marine archaeologist nor treasure hunter. He has spent the past four decades involved with design, manufacture, and operation of submersible systems. A retired naval officer (submarines) he was designated U.S. Navy deep submersible pilot #1 in the early 1970s. During 2001, in addition to Atlantic Sands, hehas participated in diving operations at the battleship Bismarck (16,000 feet) and RMS Titanic (12,500 feet). On 20 July 2001, he had lunch on board the Titanic, when the Mir 2 landed on the bridge so the sub crew could eat.

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