Ma Rencontre avec CALYPSO
Bien qu’il n’y ait aucun passé maritime dans ma famille, je voulais devenir marin. M’étant lancé là-dedans en 1957, tout juste sorti de l’Ecole Navale, je fus affecté à ne escadrille d’escorteurs côtier qui patrouillaient le long de la côte est de l’Algérie, une des plus belles côtes de la Méditerranée. Probablement pour compenser cela, la mer y était en général mauvaise. Nos patrouilles consistaient à nous faire secouer toute la nuit au gré de la danse a thymique du bateau, et parfois à lancer le dinghy pneumatique pour monter à bord et inspecter les cargos qui passaient. Pour briser cette routine, de temps à autre, nous mouillions pendant la journée dans de petites criques et capturions des poissons. Il y avait une vie marine intense, car dans cette quatrième année de la guerre d’Algérie, par peur de la contrebande d’armes, la navigation commerciale et la pêche étaient interdites tout le long de cette magnifique côte sauvage et inhabitée. Et d’une façon ou d’une autre, las poissons savaient que cette région était une mer sure pour eux.
Après avoir ainsi patrouillé les côtes du constantinois pendant un an, j’obtins un embarquement sur un sous-marin. A cette époque, la Marine Française armait une collection remarquable de sous-marins, et je me souviens d’avoir compté un soir treize bateaux de neuf types différents amarrés à Toulon à la 1ere Escadrille de sous-marins. J’embarquais sur « l’Africaine », un modèle Français d’avant-guerre, commandé en 1938. Un jour, alors que nous plongions à l’immersion maximale permise, nous avons tous entendus une explosion puis une série d’ordres inhabituels arrivèrent en cascade du kiosque et l’Africaine fonça vers la surface à une très forte assiette. Lorsqu’elle se rétablit avant qu’on ne vidange les ballasts pour faire surface, ceux qui comme moi se trouvaient sous le panneau du kiosque, essayant de comprendre ce qui se passait, reçurent une cascade d’eau de mer. Un point de soudure avait cédé et nous avions un joli petit trou dans la coque épaisse du kiosque. Les examens complets qui furent fait, ont montré que les soudures avaient été sabotées à certains endroits, et des années plus tard, la fatigue du métal avait amené cet accident. D’autres sous-marins de cette époque n’eurent pas cette chance et disparurent corps et âmes dans le fond de l’océan comme, la Syrene( erreur en fait la Sybille) , la Minerve et l’Eurydice. Ensuite, j’embarquai sur l’Argonaute, puis le Roland Morillot et enfin le Redoutable, premier sous-marin nucléaire Français. Et bien que j’ai beaucoup travaillé sur son système sonar, curieusement ce qui m’est apparu comme le plus grand changement avec les sous-marins diesels-électriques sur lesquels j’avais servi, ce n’était pas les nouvelles technologies, mais le fait qu’on pouvait se laver autant de fois qu’on voulait. Ce confort de vie état une première pour nous les sous-mariniers.
Mais, je n’allais pas profiter de ce luxe, au lieu de cela en 1970, je fus invité à rejoindre l’équipe de jacques Cousteau. A cette époque, il travaillait sur ce qui devait être le plus profond sous-marin « crache plongeur », l’Argyronète. En langage courant, c’était un sous-marin équipé d’un compartiment spécial dont les plongeurs pouvaient entrer et sortir. Le gros avantage était, qu’alors les cloches à plongeurs étaient suspendues à un navire de surface flottant peut être , deux cent mètres au dessus du fond, qui devait demeurer à la perpendiculaire de l’endroit où travaillaient les plongeurs même par mauvaise mer, en plongée un sous-marin n’était pas affecté par l’état de la mer et pouvait se tenir facilement à proximité du travail en cours. Il y avait déjà plusieurs sous-marins crache plongeurs, mais n’ayant que des batteries, ils étaient petits, dotés d’une faible autonomie, et dépendaient de leur navire ravitailleur. Ces petits sous-marins étaient hissés à bord du navire ravitailleur pour être réapprovisionnés. Cousteau voulait se débarrasser complètement du navire ravitailleur et avait dessiné un sous-marin diésel électrique, toujours petit mais cependant assez grand pour être autonome. D’où, son recrutement de sous-mariniers pour de projet qui était financé en commun par deux agences du gouvernement Français, le CNEXO et l’IFP.
Mais la pression des affaires allait me diriger dans une tout autre direction. Le Centre d’Etudes Marines Avancées, le CEMA, la base technique de Cousteau s’était vue attribué un contrat par une importante société de travaux « Off-shore » Italienne, pour explorer le détroit de Sicile, ou plutôt un étroit corridor de ce détroit où on voulait faire passer un gazoduc pour amener du gaz Algérien en Italie. C’était une grosse affaire où la Calypso avait un rôle important à jouer. Mais revenant d’une campagne de deux ans autour du monde pendant laquelle elle avait tourné de nombreux films, elle avait besoin d’un nouvel équipage. Le CEMA avait assez de personnels pour former un nouvel équipage, mais il leur manquait un commandant. Je n’avais pas encore rejoint le CEMA, et je n’avais donc pas encore pris ma place dans le système Argyronète, mais dans les dernières semaines j’avas déjà été examiné par Cousteau lui-même, le commandant Alinat et le commandant Brennot, ses deux lieutenants de confiance. Je pense qu’ils m’ont trouvé bon pour le service car dans un changement d’orientation rapide, je devenais le commandant de la Calypso et de son nouvel équipage.
Malgré tout, avant d’être autorisé à partir en mer, je devais aussi avoir la bénédiction de Simone Cousteau. Alors que pour tout le monde extérieur, la Calypso était la star de Jacques Cousteau, pour les initiés elle était sans le moindre doute le bateau de Simone Cousteau. Simone avait été présente à bord pendant la plupart de ses campagnes lointaines, et la « Bergère », son surnom, était l’âme du bateau. Pendant le diner auquel les Cousteau nous avaient invités ma femme et moi quelques jours avant que je prenne le commandement de la Calypso, dans la conversation elle se posait tout haut la question »Puis je lui confier mon bateau, je ne le connais pas ». Mais ce soir la chance était de mon côté, puisqu’elle donna son accord pour me laisser mener son navire chéri vers le détroit de Sicile sous ma seule responsabilité. Ainsi ayant dit adieu à la 1ere escadrille de sous-marins un vendredi, j’appareillais comme commandant de la Calypso le lundi suivant, nouveau bateau, nouvel équipage, nouvelle vie. Lorsque nous avons appareillé de Marseille pour la campagne Tunicile, le temps était atroce et avec un navire chargé jusqu’au plat bord et même au dessus, nous avons du chercher refuge à Toulon même, que j’avais quitté deux jours avant, et nous avons été dirigé vers le port de commerce où je n’avais jamais mis mon nez avant cela. Le vent était toujours très fort, et tout le monde avaient les yeux fixés sur le nouveau. Ils étaient de vieux loups de mer, j’étais le petit nouveau. Et quand la Calypso s’est trouvée accostée sans plus d’histoires, l’un des vieux de l’équipe Cousteau est allé téléphoner à la Bergère que le nouveau n’avait pas cassé le bateau. Mais ce petit détour avait brisé la glace et j’y gagnais d’être accepté pour l’instant dans l’équipe de la Calypso.
Ce fut le départ d’une période d’observation des deux côté. L’équipage et l’encadrement étaient tous très compétents dans leur spécialité, et beaucoup d’entre eux figuraient dans les films d Cousteau. Il n’était donc pas surprenant qu’ils semblent parfois s’attribuer quelque peu la qualité de « star » de leur patron et idole. De plus, ils avaient l’habitude de travailler par à coups d’une activité à haute tension,, faisant des choses quasi impossibles pour que les prises de vues se poursuivent quoiqu’il arrive, et vivant, sur leur adrénaline pendant ces périodes fiévreuses. Mais maintenant ce n’était plus des séquences de films que nous voulions. Nous ne cherchions plus quelques moments extraordinaires, mais la répétition ennuyeuse du même travail jour et nuit. Nous ne cherchions pas quelques images merveilleuses, mais à noter exactement tout ce qui se passait. Et là, leur orgueil qui les poussait à faire le meilleur travail possible, leur a permis de s’adapter remarquablement à leurs nouvelles tâches. Et nous en sommes venus à in profond respect mutuel de nos savoir-faire respectifs.
La plupart des membres de l’équipage étaient Marseillais et étaient dans l’équipe Cousteau depuis des années. Ce noyau formait une véritable fraternité, forgée pendant toutes ces années passées à courir les mers et à plonger pour la science, le pétrole et le cinéma. Plus tard pendant les conversations d’après-diner chez Cousteau, en l’écoutant raconter ses histoires de plongées avec cette équipe, j’ai pu mieux saisir la puissance de ce lien avec la personne de JYC qui était le ciment de cette fraternité. Falco, Coll, les pilotes de SP, ou encore les Léandri, Laban, Sivirine qui n’étaient pas à bord pour cette campagne, et d’autres dont les noms m’échappent, tous avaient figuré dans les films de cette époque. Le cuisinier aussi était un personnage. Il avait l’habitude de servir des pigeons aux petits pois quand il faisait mauvais, vous deviez alors, non seulement montrer que vous aviez le pied marin, mais aussi vos bonnes manières en ne laissant pas s’échapper ces petites billes vertes. Et ces coques de YMS (bateau) qui roulent au moindre clapot, se déchainaient vraiment dans une mer tant soit peu formée. Une fois que j’eu subit l’épreuve du pigeon, nous avons signé la paix.
Deux autres navires participaient à cette exploration, l’un d’eux cartographiant la zone et l’autre relevant des carottes du fond de la mer. Après seulement quelques jours de travail, à notre intense surprise, nous découvrîmes que même les cartes les plus récentes du détroit de Sicile étaient inexactes. Une tranchée profonde de600 mètrescoupait ce que les cartes décrivaient comme un morceau du plateau continental, où la profondeur n’excédait pas80 mètresavec un fond plat, et où les cartes donnaient une profondeur de100 mètres, nous avons trouvé des fonds de300 mètres. Cela créait une certaine excitation, nous ne nous contentions plus de rassembler des données, nous explorions l’inconnu.
La Calypso avait rejoint Tunicile pour prendre des photos du fond de la mer et pour permettre de faire de la reconnaissance visuelle sur certains tracés, des opérations qui s’avéraient être maintenant d’un intérêt encore plus grand qu’on ne le pensait au départ. Les photos du fond de la mer étaient prises par les Troikas, une sorte de traineau qui lissait sur le fond de la mer, remorqué par la Calypso au bout de plusieurs centaines de mètres de câbles. Elles étaient équipées d’un puissant flash et d’une caméra conçus par le Dr Edgerton un scientifique américain qui permettait des prises de vues entre dix et vingt-cinq mètres. Les Troïkas étaient constructions très laides, elles étaient complètement dissymétriques avec une arche en pointe sur le dessus, de façon à ce que, lorsqu’elles se couchaient à cause des accidents de terrain, elles continuent à rouler sur elles-mêmes jusqu’à ce qu’elles se retrouvent dans leur seule position stable, sur leurs patins. C’étaient des créatures diaboliques. Nous devions les remorquer très lentement, un cauchemar pour l’homme de quart ; remorquées trop lentement elles déviaient de la route du remorqueur, et personnes ne pouvaient plus placer les photos sur la carte avec un semblant de précision ; remorquées trop vite, elles survolaient, faisant des sauts d’une longueur considérable photographiant l’eau. Souvenez vous, nous étions là pour photographier le fond le long d’une route bien définie, pour donner aux architectes du gazoduc ce qu’ils demandaient, une vue direct du fond de la mer. Ceci dit nous devions en tirer le meilleur parti possible, car à cette époques les Troïkas étaient un des seuls équipements, peut être le seul équipement qui pouvait prendre des photos par grands fonds le long d’une route précise. Et ces vilaines bêtes avaient plongées très profond le long de la dorsale Atlantique, et cela dès 1959, où elles avaient prises des photos à environs-4000 mètres, ce qui avait amené des preuves visibles de la théorie de la « tectonique des plaques ».
Les connaissances visuelles étaient menées par deux sous-marins nains, SP 350, une machine biplace plongeant à-350 mètres, et SP 600, une version à une place qui pouvait descendre à-600 mètres. Développées par le CEMA comme les Troïkas ; les SP se distinguaient des autres sous-marins nains de l’époque en ce qu’ils étaient conçus comme des appareils de plongées résistant à la pression. Le pilote et l’observateur n’étaient pas assis ; mais étendus sur le ventre. C’étaient des équipements de natation entourés d’une carapace.
J’ai plongée dans la SP 350, et lors d’une de ces plongées, nous avons trouvé l’épave d’une ancienne galère, probablement une galère romaine. Ce fut un moment passionnant, car dans le détroit de Sicile, le paysage est en général celui d’une plaine de vase avec de temps en temps une barre de rochers. Parfois, il n’y avait pas de paysage du tout, car en certains endroits aux approches du fond la vase était tellement fine qu’elle se mélangeait intimement avec l’eau de mer et vous plongiez dans une soupe brune, jusqu’à ce que la vase plus épaisse, la soupe devienne tellement dense qu’elle stoppait la progression du sous-marin vers le bas, sans que vous puissiez dire si vous aviez ou non atteint le fond.
Mais entre les jours de mer, la vie à terre avait aussi ses moments intéressants. Nous étions basés à Trapani, une ville moyenne au coin nord-est de la Sicile, et parce que la Calypso avait quittée Marseille en hâte, nous avons eu, à notre arrivé à Trapani à résoudre un délicat problème d’approvisionnement. Pour mesurer les courants de surface, le procédé le moins cher est de jeter par dessus bord des cartes plastifiées avec le nom et l’adresse de l’organisme concerné, dans notre cas le « Musée Océanographique de Monaco » dont Cousteau était le directeur. Et il est surprenant de constater que la plupart du temps assez de cartes sont renvoyées pour données des informations intéressantes. Nous avions les cartes à bord, mais nous n’avions pas eu le temps de les faire plastifiées. Le remède classique est de placer chaque carte dans un préservatif, de fermé le paquet afin qu’il dérive parfaitement en surface. Aussi nous sommes allés à la plus proche pharmacie. Mais lorsqu’il devint claire que nous demandions plusieurs milliers d’unités, l’atmosphère se refroidit considérablement. La taille de la Calypso montrait qu’il n’y avait pas grand monde à bord, et une telle quantité de préservatifs voulait simplement dire que les filles à terre devaient songer à l’impensable un bon nombre de fois. Il fallu beaucoup de diplomatie pour ramener cet affaire à un simple incident de traduction.
Un autre incident fut plus sérieux. Au cours d’un accostage de nuit, je suis venu contre la coque d’une vedette à ales portantes qui faisaient le service des passagers entre Trapani et les Iles Aegades, quelques milles au large. Leur vitesse permet à ces bateaux de sortir leur coque de l’eau et de naviguer sur des ailes montées sous la coque. J’étais inquiet et me demandais si cette délicate structure avait été endommagée, et j’envoyais un plongeur l’inspecter. Il n’y avait aucun dommage apparent. Aussi lorsque le service vers les Iles repris le lendemain, après que la vedette ait fait plusieurs galops d’essai à toute vitesse, je retournais à mon petit déjeuner et donnais l’ordre de se préparer à appareiller. Dés que le premier moteur démarra un officier de la direction du Port se précipita pour délivrer un ordre de saisie de la Calypso, sauf si on déposait six millions de lire entre les mains de la direction du port. Ne pas obtempérer, nous menait directement en prison.
Nous sommes allés voir le consul honoraire de France, nous avons remplis des quantités de papiers, disant que la vedette n’avait subit aucun dommage puisqu’elle avait repris son service, tout cela sans résultat. Au bout de nos ressources, nous avons demandés l’aide d’un homme d’affaire local qui avait été le contact de la société Italienne dont nous étions les sous-traitants, pour nous aider à établir notre base locale. Il a suffit qu’il aille à Palerme une soirée pour nous rendre notre liberté sans rançon. Quelques jours plus tard de retour à Trapani, nous avons vu la même vedette tirée à terre en cale sèche. Craignant que ce soit la conséquence tardive de l’accostage, nous avons demandé au gardien l’autorisation d’aller regarder de près un navire aussi intéressant, et nous n’avons noté aucun dommage apparent. Lorsque poursuivant la conversation nous avons appris que ce passage en cale sèche n’était que de la maintenance planifiée et que la cale sèche avait été retenue depuis 6 mois pour 6 millions de lires, nous nous sommes sentis dans notre bon droit.
Tout cela remplissait nos journées, et nous avions l’impression qu’il n’y aurait pas assez de temps pour tout le travail à faire. Cependant 3 mois après notre arrivée à Trapani, nous avions terminé notre travail et la campagne était finie. Nous sommes revenus à Marseille où j’ai fait mes adieux à la Calypso. J’avas rencontré des personnes qui avaient une expérience de la mer différente de la mienne, et après la très stricte formation de la marine militaire, j’avais appris qu’il y avait plus d’une façon d’aller sur la mer. De mon côté j’ai peut être apporté quelque chose, mais étant le nouveau, je ne suis pas sur que cela ait été un apport durable
Je retournai au projet Argyronète. Mais quelques années après, Cousteau n’était plus sans rivaux dans ce domaine. Le CNEXO avait ses propres programmes et la concurrence pour l’allocation des fonds devenait plus âpre, l’Argyronète n’était plus en tête de liste. Dans ces conditions avec l’absence d’intérêt des Américains, le projet était condamné. La technologie sous-marine demandait trop de capitaux pour être financée par les revenues des médias. Comme j’étais un homme du projet Argyronète, je du quitter le monde de Cousteau.
Ceci est un passage d’un conférence donnée par Le Capitaine Alain Thibaudeau lors de la réunion de Franco-British Sociéty »
Discours fait le 26 avril 2000 à Londres
Je le remercie pour le courrier et la confiance qu’il m’accorde
Merci à vous capitaine.
Drift of events
When I was asked to deliver a lecture on my past maritime experience. I wondered why and when I was told that in addition it should all come under a short title, it put the frighters on me . Not only had I to make it interesting- which many people simply do without thinking too much about it- but I had also to find in a few words a common thread linking what were often loosely connected activities. It is the drift of events that took me from one place to the other and through various jobs all linked to the sea, in the French Navy first, then in some of the activities of Jacques Cousteau and eventually in the fishing industry. So , let me go where the drift of current caught me first.
Though there is no sea water around my forebears I wanted to be a sailor. Having set about it in 1957 fresh from the "Ecole Navale" , I joined a squadron of small ships patrolling along the east coast of Algéria , which is one of the most beautiful coast lines in the Mediterranean. Perhaps to compensate for this , most of the time the sea in this area is pretty rough. our patrols consisted of being bounced about all night by the ship's disorganised dnce, and on occasion, launching the inflatable dinghy to board and inspect passing cargo ships. To break this routine , we used from time to time to cast anchor during the day in small creecks and catch fish. Marine life was plentiful , as in this fourth year of war in Algéria , for fear of arms smuggling, commercial sailing and fishing was forbidden along this magnificent , wild, and uninhabited coast. And somehow the fish knew that this area was a safe place for them.
After a year of patrolling the coasts of the "constantinois" , I was admitted to the submarine service. In these days , the French Navy was opering a pretty unique collection of submarines, and I remember one evening counting thirteen boats of nine different types , berthed at the 1 st squadron base in Toulon. There were three types of French boats found unfinished in dockyards and completed after the war , three types of German "U -Boats" , the spoils of war , S types acquired from the Royal Navy, and the first of the recently commissioned "Narval" and "Arethuse" class . In the tribe that is the submarine service , clans were created around a certain type of boat, that lasted until you were posted to a ship of another type and had to learn new loyalties.
I joined "L'Africaine" , a pre-war French design wich had been ordered in 1938. After the invasion of France , the German Navy decided to complete her as a training submarine, but left her unfinished in 1945. After a detailed inspection of the work, carried out on board by each of the workers of the yard to spot any sabotage , she was completed for French Navy as quickly as feasible , keeping to the pre-war design.
Unfortunately the inspection had missed a thing or two. One day while undergoing some test at maximum permitted deph , we all heard a big bang, then a series of unusual orders fired in quick succession from the coning tower and "L'Africaine" was rushing to the surface at a steep angle. When she levelled off just before blowing the ballasts to surface , those who like me were standing under the hatch of the coning tower , trying to figure out what was going on , were swamped in sea water. A spot of had gone and we had a nice little hole in the pressure hull of the coning tower. When the boat tilted back to horizontal all the water that had gushed in through the hole poured down the hatch into the control room.
From the very thorough checks which were ordered after this near miss, it became obvious that welding had been sabotaged in some place, and years later the fatigue of metal had claimed its due. we were very lucky , others were not. Not long before my time" Syrene" was lost and during my days in the submarine service, "Minerve" and " Eurydice" were also lost at sea. These are stark reminders that the sea under the surface is quied but may on occasion be dangerous. To the best of my knowledge "l'Africaine" is the only submarine career , up to and including commanding the "Argonaute", can best be described as uneventful.
Nevertheless my time sailing in ex-german type XXI boat , the "Roland Morillot" was an experience worth remembering , as it was one of the last opportunities tonresurrect some images of second wolrd war, with the gigantic concrete blocks of the German base of Keroman in the background. Only one type XXI submarine was sent in operation in 1945. She went undetected through a screen of destroyers and let the quarries escape , as the war had just ended . These vessels were the inspiration for all modern submarines in all navies until they went nuclear. Their speed underwater was the same as the speed of the corvettes of the early forties and in 1945 more modern frigates were only marginally faster. By the way the "Roland Morillot" was transferred to the French Navy by the Royal Navy.
Ashore , the bunkers of pharaonic proportions the Germans had built allowed the submarines to berth completely under cover, protected against the heaviest bombs of the time inside these dark concrete caves. Each bunker had enough room for about half a dozen boats , and one of them had a swimming pool the top wich was a bomb crater , most likely a british bomb. Besides the images of the war, for me this time conveys memories of penetrating dampness: the bunkers were damp; the boat like all old submarines , was humid when submerged ; but in addition the XXI had the strange habit, when sailing on the surface , of charging at the base of the waves, passing through and under them instead of them instead of riding them as any well-behaved vessel would have done . So there was never time or space to dry out.
But profound changes were coming with the commissioning a few years later of "le Redoutable" , the first French nuclear submarine. And though I had worked quite extensively on her sonar system , in a funny sort of way what struck me as the major difference with the diesel boats in which I served was not the new technologies, but that people on board could wash at will. Gone were the days when after two showers at the submarine base , on coming home I was put into a hot bath and left to marinate until all the greasy smelly stuff finally dissolved.
But I was not to enjoy that luxury , instead in 1970 I was invited to join Jacques Yves Cousteau 's team. At that time he was working on what should have been the deepest "lock-in/lock-out submarine , the Argyronete". In plain words , this was a submarine with a special compartment from which divers can come out and get back in . The main benefit was that , while diving bells had to be dipped from a surface ship, floating maybe two hundred meters above the sea bed, who must stav perpendicular to the place of work even in rough seas , down below a submarine was not affected by the state of the sea and could stand easily close to the work at hand. There were already several of these "lock-in/lock-out" submarines, but they were powered on batteries, were small and had a limited autonomy, being dependant on a supply ship to be stored and resupplied . Cousteau wanted to get rid of the supply ship altogether , and had designed what turned out to be fully fledged diesel submarine, still small but large enough to be autonomous. Hence his drive recruiting submariners for this project which was financed jointly by two agencies of the french government, CNEXO and IFP.
However pressure of business put me in a different place . The "Centre d'études Marines Avancées" or CEMA , Cousteau 's technical base , had been awarded a contract by a major Italian off-shore contractor to survey the strait ofSicily , or rather a narrow corridor of the Strait where it was planned to lay a pipeline to carry Algerian gas to Italy . It was a big job where "Calypso" had a major role to play. But having just completed a two years campaign around the world, shooting a number of films, she was in need of a fresh compagny. The CEMA had enough people to rotate the crew but was short of a captain. I had not yet joined up the CEMA , nor for that reason taken up my position in the "Argyronete" system , but in the past weeks I had been vetted by Cousteau himself, Captain Alinat and Commander Brennot, his two most trusted lieutenants. I presume I was passed fit as there was a quick change of tack and I was to take command of "Calypso" and her new company. Nevertheless to be allowed to set her on course, I had also to get the blessing of Simone Cousteau. While to the outside world "Calypso" was Jacques Cousteau's own star, for the insiders without the shadow of a doubt she was Simone Cousteau's ship . Simone had been on board during most of her faraway campaigns, and "la bergère", her nickname , was the soul of the boat. During the dinner my wife and I had together with the Cousteaus a few days before I took command of "Calypso" she was asking herself aloud in a conversational tone"Can I entrust my ship to him,I don't know him". However this evening luck was on my side, as she agreed to let me take her cherished ship to the Strait of Sicily under my sole responsibility. So having bid farewell to the 1st submarine squadron on a friday, I set out to sea as captain of "Calypso" on the next Monday , new ship, new life.
When we set out of Marseilles for campaign "Tunicile" ,the weather was atrocious, and with a ship loaded up to the gulleys and above, we had to go for shelter precisely in Toulon which I had left two days before, and we were sent to the commercial harbour where I had never poked my nose until that day. The wind was still very strong, and everyone was looking at the new boy. "They" were old seafarers, "I" was the freshman. And when "Calypso" was berthed without more ado , one of Cousteau's old hands dutifully rang "la begère" to tell her that the new boy had not wrecked the ship. However this little detour broke the ice and I gained there my provisional acceptance in the ship's company.
That was the start of a period of observation on both sides. The crew and staff were all highly proficient in their speciality and many of them could be seen in Cousteau's films. Not surprisingly the star status of their supremo and idol seemed at times to have rubbed off on them. Furthermore they were used to working in bursts of highvoltage activity, doing well-nigh impossible things to keep the shooting of the film going whatever happened, and living on adrenaline during these feverish periods. But that was not material for the film we wanted. We were not after some extraordinary moments rather the tedious repetition of the same work day and night. We were not looking for a few marvellous pictures, rather to record everything exactly as it was. In these circumstances their pride in doing the best job possible made them remarkably adaptable, and we came to a deep mutual respect and regard for each other's skills.
Most of the members of the crew were from Marseilles and had been with the team for years. That nucleus was a true brotherhood forged during all these years of sailing the seas and diving for science, oil , and cinema. Later, during after-dinner talks at home , listening to Cousteau telling the stories of his diving with all that team, I could better capture the power of the personal bond to JYC which cemented the brotherhood. Falco,Coll, the SP pilots or the like of Léandri, Laban, Sivirine who were not on board this time, and others whose names have slipped my memory,all of them had been shown in the films of the period. The chef also was a character. He used to cook pigeons with( petits pois) only when the sea was pretty rough, you had then not only to show off your sea legs but also your manners, not letting the little round green things roll free. And these YMS hulls, wich tended to roll at the slightest ripple, were really bouncing in any sea worthy of the name. However once I had gone through the ordeal by pigeon, truce was declared.
Two more vessels were taking part in the survey, one drawing charts of the area, the other taking core samples of the sea floor. After only a few days, to our intense surprise, we found that even the most recent charts of the strait between Sicily and Tunisia were completely wrong. A canyon 600 meter deep was cutting across what maps described as a gentle piece of continental shelf with a depth of 80 meters, and where the charts were showing a flat sea floor at a depth of 100 meters we recorded depths of 300 meters. That created some excitement, we were no longer collating data, but charting the unknown.
"Calypso" had been brought in to, take pictures of the bottom of the strait, and to carry visual reconnaissance un certain places, all operations which were now of evengreater interest than we thought initialy. photographs of the sea floor were made by the "troikas", a sort of sledge towed by "calypso" at the end of several hundred meters of cable and sliding on the bottom of the sea. Thy were fitted with a powerful flash and a camera designed by Dr Edgerton an American scientist, taking pictures within a range of ten up to twenty meters. troikas were ugly contractions, they were totally non-symmetrical with a pointed arch on top, so that when they were turned upside down in a piece of roiugh terrain they would roll over until they come back to their only stable position, on their sliding base.
They were devilish creatures. We had to two them very slowly, a nightmare for the man on the bridge; if towed slower than they sway, and no-one could put the pictures on the map with any semblance of accuracy; if faster than they like they fly, making jumps of considerable length while taking photographs of the sea water.
Remember we were there to film the sea floor along a definite path , ti give the designer of the pipe line what they require,a direct view of the sea bed. Anyway we had to make the best of it, as at that time they were one of the few types of equipment, maybe the only equipment, capable of taking pictures along a set path in deep water. And these ugly beasts had gone very deep on the atlantic ridge where as early as 1959 they took photographs at a depth of about 4000 meters which have added visual evidence to the theory of "plaques tectoniques".
Visual reconnaissance was to be carried out with two midget submarines ,SP 350, a two-man machine capable of diving down to 350 meter, and SP 600 a one-man version which could reach a depth of 600 meter. Developed by CEMA , as well as the troikas, the SPs differed from other midget submarines of the time as were designed as a pressure resistant swimming suit. The pilot and the observer were not sitting but were lying on their belly. In a way they were swimming gears with a carapace around them.
I dived in the SP 350, and during one of these dives we found the wreckage of on antique galley, presumably a Roman one. That was an exciting moment, as usually deep down in the stait of Sicily the landscape was a mudflat with from time to time an outcrop of rock. Sometimes there was no landscape at all, as in some places near the sea floor the mud was so thin that it mixed intimately with water and you couldn't tell whether you had reached the bottom or not.
By c onstrast, in the of Messina, between Sicily and Italy, strong currents had washed bare the sea bed, which was paved with large rounded pebbles gleaming in the light of the flashes. Currents and heavy traffic crossing the starit made it an uncomfortable area to explore. To add to the discomfort, at the northen entrance of this stretch of water we experienced at first hand the very rapid formation of a vortex like those of Charybdis. While"Calypso" was giving it a wide berth, the SP 350 was caught in the descending spiral. She had to wait until she reached the bottom, go further down and move away from the bottom end of the whirlpool before she could head to the surface. We hoisted her on board with a deep sense of relief.
However in between our days at sea , life ashore was not without excitement either. We were based in Trapani, a medium size city on the North-West end of Sicily, and because "Calypso" had left Marseilles in a hurry we had on our arrival in Trapani to slove a difficult problem of procurement. To measure surface currents, the cheapest way is to throw overboard numbered plasticised cards with the name and address of the campaigne, in our case "the musée océanographique de Monaco" of which Cousteau was the director. And surprisingly, most times enough cards are returned ti give interesting informations on the matter.
We had the cards on board, but we hadn't had time to have them plasticised. The rough and ready remedy is to put each card in a condom, tie up the loose end and they drift on the surface very well. So we went to the nearest pharmacy. When it became clear that we were asking for four thousand units, the atmosphere cooled noticeably. from the size of "Calypso" it was obvious there were not that many people on board, and such a figure could only mean that girls ashore had to think the unthinkable many times over? It took a fair amount of diplomacy to bring the incident down to size.
Another incident was not so easily laughed off? One night, berthing the ship,I rubbed alongside one of the hydrofoils which were running a passenger service between Trapani and a group of small islands, the Aegadi, a few miles off-shore. At speed these boats raise above water on wings mounted under the hull. I was worried that the delicate structure may have been damaged, and sent a diver to inspect it. He saw no appearance of damage. So when the service to the Islands resumed next morning, after the hydrofoil had undertaken several trial runs at full speed,I went back to my breakfast and gave instructions to set out shortly. As soon as the first engine roared an officer from the harbour Master's office rushed to us and delivered a writ impounding "Calypso" uniess we deposited six millions Lira in the hands of the Harbour Master. Failure to comply would lead straight to jail.
We enlisted the help of the Honorary Consul of France , filed endless papers, claiming that no damage had been done to the hydrofoil as she had resumed full service to the Aegadi, all to no avail. At our wits' end we resorted to the help of a local businessman who had been a contact of our principals in Rome, to help establishing our local base. It required a trip by him one evening to Palermo to give us back our freedom without ransom. A few days later, back in Trapani, we saw the same hydrofoil winched up a slipway. Very worried this might be a consequence of our doing, we asked the guardian of the yard to let us have a look at this so interesting boat, and saw nothing of note. when further in the conversation we heard that it was planned maintenance, that the slipway had been booked six months hence, and the cost of the whole exercise was six millions Lira, we felt completely vindicated.
All this filling out the days, and it seemed there were not enough of them for the amount of work at hand. However three months after our arrival in Trapani the schedule of work was completed , and the campaign drew to a close. We sailed back to Marseilles, where I bade farewell to "Calypso". I had met people with an experience of the sea different from mine, and after the uncompromising naval military training, I had learnt there was more than one way to seafaring. I may have brought something too, but being the freshman, I am not sure it made a lasting impression.
Before going back to the "Aygyronèthe" , the reason for my joining the CEMA, it may be the time to have a word about the driving force behind all that, Cousteau himself. Though he was fascinated by the advance of marine technology, he saw his main missionto convey to everyone his deep enthusiasm for the sea as a living ecosystem, the "living sea" , and the need to protect this fragile world. The grim day-by-day use of marine technology to business ends was of much less interest to him. He was therefore ambivalent about this campaign in the strait of Sicily, it was a challenge putting to the lest many of the technologies he had developed, and at the same time a distraction from his main interests in life, his mission, protecting the " living sea"
I can't tell you much about his film-making or more generally his considerable work to project the world over this concept of the living sea, but I can share with you my memories of a time when he was at a crossroads between working for the advancement of marine science and technology, and devoting his time to composing through his films what he felt was his message to the world.
For a number of years"Calypso" was the only oceanographic vessel that carried the French flag on the high seas. That is science and technology period that I will endeavour to recall for you to the best of my memory. After Cousteau quit the navy and decided to go it alone in 1950, he was introduced to Loel Guiness who shared his passion for the sea. They hit it off the two ex-US minesweepers, "Calypso" and "Calisto" usyed as ferry-boats between Mamts and Gozo, Loel guiness bought "Calisto" as his yacht and financed the purchase of "Calypso" for Cousteau.
One Calypso" had been overhauled and fitted out for her new job, she strated what was to be her life for the years to come, to explore the vertical dimension of the sea for science oil and cinema. These expeditions were financed broadly three ways, by the Cousteaus (and simone's jewellery was more than once used as collateral for bank loans), by oil compagnies, and for a large part after 1954 by the French Gouvermment through a covenant with Cousteau's "campagnes océanographiques françaises" ? In fact that covenant made "calypso" the standard bearer of French oceanography for all these years running from the early fifties to the late sixties? But without Coustea's all-consuming pursuit of his dream none of that would have happened .
During this period Cousteau produced his first commercial underwater films"le monde du silence" which brought him to fame was shot in 1955. In 1959, he dev eloped the SP 350, a battery powered midget submarine for two people, able to dive at 350 meters. three years later in 1962, "conshelf 1 took place". This was a full-scale experiment involving new ideas on diving, put forward by Dr ,Bond from the Us Navy. Two divers were to spend seven days without coming back to the surface, operating from an underwater house kept dry but at the same pressure as the sea around it. It was the first step towards very deep diving. These three lines of developments mapped out his vision of the future.
This vision had become the catalyst for a number of inventions ; <<<<<<<troikas came from Cousteau's search for a cheap way to get pictures of the sea bed very deep in the aftermath of a dive in the bathyscaphe, and as aiready mentioned the pictures of lava on the Atlantic Ridge Brought Visual evidence to support the theory of plaque tectonic when they were presented at the first World Congress of Oceanography held at New-York in 1959. SP 350 was the continuance of this idea , giving man affordable means of visual observation on the continental shelf. This concept of relatively affordable technology for the visual exploration of the seas runs throught all of Cousteau's technical achievements . Getting pictures was always of paramount importance for him and there was always this lurking that the cost of technology should not exceed the revenues from the pictures.
But keeping the costs down had some drawbacks . To test the pressure hull of the SPs at the lowestcost, they were lowered into the sea from the stern of Calypso at the end of a very long cable until they reached the maximum depth at which they could withstand the pressure. The hull of the first SP 350 underwent these tests brilliantly, but as with all prototypes she was modifield during her completion, and had to be tested again. This time she cut herself loose and when Calypso came back the next day equipped with a powerful sounding set the SP 350 was located hovering some ten meters above the sea bed at a deph of about 1000 meters. The 250 kilo weight that was hanging ten meters below her as a ballast during the test was anchoring her to the sea bed, preventing her from floating up to the surface . 1000 meters was too deep to attempt to rescue her and she was left to her own fate.
Having succeeded in keeping man underwater for a full week at 10 meters during "conshelf 1 near Marseilles, the next step was to keep divers one full month underwater at depth up to 25 meters. That was "conshelf2 which was performed at Shab Rumi off the coast of Soudan in 1963. This time a real village was set up on the sea bed , two houses for the divers and a garage for the SP 350. It may have been a sort of futuristic vision of a city under the sea, it was certainly the sharp vision of an exceptional film director. The mass of records made it a decisive step towards saturation diving , and the quality of the pictures made the film an Oscar winner in the pictures class of documentary.
Between these two all demanding pursuit, the dream of bringing man under the sea, and his worldwide crusade for the "living sea", a mere pipe line was a distraction from the essential. Though it was not the first time he turning his hand at that sort of work; he had done it once already in 1959 across the strait of Gibraltar for Gaz de France. But as time was going on this type of work became more of a burden. And the last cruise of the Calypso, just before Tunicile was almost entirely devoted to film making. However this business had the merit of bringing money in the kitty, which from what I understand had been a constant worry for a long time.
It must be mentioned also that Cousteau was the Director General of the "musé océanographique de monaco MOM", established by Prince Albert de Monaco at the turn of the last century. The Prince was a passionate oceanographer who was in particular trying to work out what was the life hidden very deep under the sea. And one can still see in the MOM the very simple device he used to capture these creatures from the darkness of the sea. He hung white China plates inside a net to reflect any light some of them were emitting and lure them inside the trap. It worked to a degree, one problem being to bring them to the surface without them bursting open as a result of the lack of pressure they were used to.
Hunting sperm whales was another means Prince Albert used to sample life at great depth. They are enormous dolphins , and having teeth they feed on living prey that they catch when they dive sometimes as deep as 1000 meters. Cutting their stomachs open shortly after they have dived allowed you to retrieve these creatures from the depth before they were digested. It proved that very large octopus live deep in the sea, which in turn confirmed that large scars on the skin of these whales were made by the tentacles of these creatures? Cousteau's son Jean Michel is now mounting a campaign to find visual evidence of the existence of these "kraken".
That Cousteau was a star and enjoyed stardom, is stating the obvious, and enough has been said, published and filmed about him to rule out further description. But the man may be worth a few words. He used to meet his staff when he was "here". In Monte-Carlo this meant Christmas, Easter or other holiday periods. As he was aware that he was not making himself very popular with the spouses, and he bristled at the suggestion that girls may think poorly of him, he invited them with the boys. My wife has vivid memories of evenings spent sitting on the top of the staircase with "la bergere" and other wives, to let the boys talk business.
I in have vivid memories of the day he asked me whether I would go to Colombia to deliver some lectures in his stead; a couple of days in cartagena and back. The only missing point was that I had to write up the lecturers double quick as I was taking off less than a week later. The next trick was that while we had been assured that I could deliver my lecturers in French, when on the spot I had to translate the whole thing into Spanish Fortunately there were French lecturers at the Naval College of Cartagena to help me out. Nevertheless that didn't spare me a superb blunder. Talking about fish eggs, I used the Spanish word in the feminine form which is slang to describe what makes boys boys.
The next unforeseen turn of events was that, after the lectures were delivered, I was asked to go to Los Angeles to meet JYC, only a couple of days. Well the errand took me to Washington and then New-York and the North East Coast . It lasted three weeks.
I could then gauge JYC's popularity in the United State, which was incredible . Coming from Colombia , even in these days I was of interest to the US customs and immigration. A letter bearing his signature cut short that interest. With his name alone you could go almost anywhere in Washington. That his how having lost my way in the Pentagon, and not having the the right badge for the place where I was,I was politely turned back to my contact rather than to the Military Police.
My job there was to sound out wether the US Navy had any interest in "argyronete", as more and more the cost of the projet was considered too heavy by the French govermment? A govermment agency, the CNEXO, had been created in the mid sixties to oversee research and development in the field of oceanography. Now the position of Cousteau in this domain was less unique,CNEXO had its own programmes, and competition for funding was growing harder,"argyronete" was no longer top of the list. In these circumstances, with the Americans showing no immediate interest in it, the project was doomed. Underwater technology demanded too much capital to be financed by the revenues of the revenues of the media business. As I was an "argyronete" man,I left Cousteau's world.
Tropical tuna boats were derived from US Pacific Coast "purse seiners". When I joined the party, boats in operation were substantial, but the ones being built were impressive. About 65 meters ( 220 feet) long, they used to "shoot" a net stretching 1600 meters( one mile) with which they encircled the tuna schools. But thoubh US and French boats were similar in design,fishing techniques were not identical.
Along the Pacific coast, dolphins swirm on top of tunas, and you have to round up the dolphins to round up the tunas one layer down. Hence the problem of pushing the dolphins out before closing on the tunas. That was not the case off the African coast where the French boats operated. dolphins and tunas used to swin away from each other, and it was when tunas had already gathered in compact schools, most often hunting for food at the surface of the sea, that we captured them. If there were other sea creatures around they were most often sharks which were feeding on the tunas.
These boats were comfortable, and being the representative of the owner I enjoyed a large air-conditioned cabin at the back of the bridge next to the captain's quarter. As fishing was based on spotting schools of fish coming to the surface , we were busy from dawn to dusk while nights were usually quiet. And if the end game was to throw a net into the sea, nevertheless it was more hunting than fishing, steering the ship to cut the escape route of the tunas while at the same time trying not to scatter the school or make it go for the cover of depth. But for all the excitement of a chase starting at dawn, and culminating some hours later catch, the most wanted quality in fishermen was patience. For hours on end for days sometimes the men were on the lookout peering through their binoculars at an empty sea, meeting with no sign of tunas.
Our hunting grounds, the Bight of Guinea, were a vast expanse of grey warm waters where over there years of frequent spells at sea I seldom met rough weather. the sky was frequently overcast, but we were under the tropics and even through the cover of clouds you can be sun burnt. The sea was very pften empty as we were fishing south of the shipping lines running West/East, parallel to the coast. One of the mains distractions was the migration on the shark whales. They were sharks with no theeeth but whalebones, and they were of tne size of a whale. They came in May if my memory is right, and were hunted by whalers for their fat. Sometimes we caught one in the net, and they were brought alongside the ship waiting passievely to be released once the tunas were lo aded on board. Sailors sometimes walked their backs without their apparently noticing it.
Life on board superficially informal, but it was very clear that the captain had immense authority, though in some circumdtances his leadership could be challenged. Pay packets were directly linked to the volume of fish in the hold, so as long as the captain was providing fat cheques he has the absolute ruler. When times were lean still his rule was undisputed il it were lean times for all flotilla. Sometimes tempers flared, or there were heated arguments when things were not going welle for your ship compared to others. The point of the argument was to decide how best the boat could be let back to the fishing grounds, it was a sort of rough exercice in democracy, trying to lean on the captain to get him to take into account the opinions and the experience of the other members of the crew. Sometimes these arguments were carrids out in "Breton", as in some boats it was the natural language.
All these traditional ways of fishing should not hide the fact that catching tuna was a sophisticated job. Tuna scholls tend to gather on the border of warm and cold waters where plankton is growing, attracting anchovies on which tunas feed. And for want of being able to forecast precisely the movements of warm and cold currents, the alternative was to explore as large an area as possible. And to explore the Bright of Guinea the ship owners of the French tuna had jointly purchased an aircraft to survey the arza and guide the boats to the best places.
Nervertheless the tuna boats were still missing an overall real time map of the temperature of the surface of the sea to follow more closery the movements of warm and cold waters. At that time in the mid seventies, a European satellite had benne lauched to stand above the Bright on Guinea ans collect meteorological data including the temperature of surface on the sea. I led the team who negotiaded withe the Centre National d'Etudes Spaciales and we managed to get a daily chart of sea temperature broadcast to the French tuna boats. I thi k it was a world premiere. With satellite navigation, a distant forebear of GPS, and bathuthermography it made an interestingnmixture, adding the latest technology of the day to traditional means. The men at sea may not have had a perfect grasp of the technology at work, but they had a precise and clear understanding of their aims and often devised clever ways of using the mix of means they had.