My Father, The Captain
In the spring of 1950, Jacques-Yves Cousteau had a vision. Or, at least, he liked to recall that he had a vision, but it’s possible that what became a vision in the retelling was in reality a chance encounter. Either way, he’d found his ship. In the first version of the story, the magical version that suggests that the Calypso
appeared before him like something out of a storybook, Dad was out for a stroll in the harbor village of La Valette-du-Var, on the island of Malta. La Valette is a charming village that even today feels old and new all at once, rich with history and at the same time utterly contemporary and altogether vibrant, although in 1950, the large naval ships in the port were a bleak reminder that the island was still under British rule. In this very harbor, my father took to saying that the Calypso
appeared before him for the first time. He fell immediately under her spell. He described the ship to his collaborator Yves Paccalet in the following terms: “With her half-white, half-black wooden planking, anchored among the fishing boats and battleships, she enchanted me immediately. I want her. I shall have her. I read her name on the hull: Calypso C.
At that moment, I realized that I will command her and that I will sail her to the end of the world. . . .”
It is a romantic vision, yes? And yet there is another account that seems far more reliable. I heard my father tell this complementary version many times as well and came to suspect that the truth rested in the balance of these two stories. In the second version, my father was visiting Auron, a ski resort in the south of France, and he was at dinner with friends, talking about his dream of exploring the world’s oceans. He expressed his frustration with L’Elie Monnier
and told of the difficulties he was having requisitioning a more suitable vessel from the French Navy. JYC was a wonderful dreamer, a wonderful storyteller, a wonderful dinner companion—and from the accounts of those present, he was his usual effervescent self on this night. When my father stood to leave, he was approached by a gentleman who had been seated at the next table. The man appeared to have been caught in the swirl of my father’s enthusiasm. He said, “Forgive me, but I overheard your conversation. I might be in a position to offer you a vessel to help you achieve your dream.”
Excerpted from My Father, the Captain by Jean-Michel Cousteau with Daniel Paisner. Copyright © 2010 by Jean-Michel Cousteau with Dani. Excerpted by permission of National Geographic, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.