Almost everybody has heard about Jacques Cousteau, and I literally mean everybody, not just divers! He is the legendary French explorer and filmmaker that together with the engineers Emile Gagan and Georges Commeinhes developed the first regulator.
Deservedly or not, he is considered the “Father of the Aqualung”. He was also a naval officer and one of the pioneers of underwater research and has inspired more than a few people to take up scuba diving as a hobby, or even a career. I am certainly amongst them!
Famous for his huge smile and constantly wearing a wetsuit and orange wooly hat, he really changed the world for the better and is a big idol for many divers. However, how well do you think you know him? There was much more to the man than meets the eye! Here are five things about this great man that might surprise you.
1 – Jacques Cousteau really wanted to fly
Cousteau joined the navy when he was young, but his original goal was not the underwater world. Instead, he wanted to be an aviator. Unfortunately, in 1936, he was involved in a serious car accident.
Having borrowed his father’s car, the lights shorted out on a dark road and he crashed horrifically. Due to his injuries, his dreams of ever flying a plane were over. As a form of rehab, he took up ocean swimming. In that same year, he swam underwater with goggles and he discovered this was where his heart belonged.
2 – The Captain had a hidden family
Cousteau was married to Simone Melchoir in 1937. Together, they sailed on the Calypso and worked tirelessly to gain more funding for the various projects.
To help him finance his dreams, Simone even sold her family jewels as they were unable to otherwise buy fuel for their ship. She was nicknamed “La Bergere” (the Shepherdess) by the crew of the Calypso because she cared so much about it. They had two sons toghether, Jean-Michel and Philippe.
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However, this picture-perfect marriage was not as beautiful as it appeared to be. Instead, in 1991, Cousteau admitted to having a mistress, with whom he had two kids, Diane and Pierre-Yves.
He didn’t publicly announce this until Simone had died of cancer, but the affair with Francine Triplet had been going on for long before that. She was more than 30 years younger than him. Some years later, after the death of his first wife, he actually married her.
3 – The Calypso belonged to Guinness
The Calypso is a truly famous ship. What most people don’t know, however, was that she actually was a WWII minesweeper, built by the US Navy, stationed in the Mediterranean Sea, before she was retired from active service altogether in 1947. She was acquired by Joseph Gasan and used as ferry between Malta and Gozo.
In 1950 she was given to Cousteau by the Irish brewery Guiness, and this is when her true fame began! Cousteau made her into a research vessel, and she became his platform for underwater research and filmmaking all over the globe. For her maiden voyage, Cousteau took her to the Red Sea.
The ship became famous thanks to all the great underwater movies Cousteau produced for the TV, amongst them “The Silent World: A Story of Undersea Discovery and Adventure”, which was at the time the first underwater film to show the underwater world in color. Even today, despite some quite grueling scenes, this film is still great to watch, and amongst my all-time favorites!
The fate of the Calypso however was less fortunate. She was rammed and sank in Singapur in 1996, was patched up and brought to Marseille. After a series of battles over ownership and restauration costs, she ended up neglected and in disrepair, until in January 2016 a good Samaritan was found to finance her restauration.
In March 2016, the Calypso has been loaded onto the Dutch cargo ship Abis Dusavik and transported to Istanbul. It is the aim of this project to make the Calypso seaworthy again, although this grand old dame will probably no longer be used for expeditions, but function as ambassador for the protection of the environment and underwater world. Restauration is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2018.
4 – Other incredibly cool inventions
Cousteau is said to be the father of the Aqualung, and while it was his idea to create an underwater breathing apparatus, it was actually developed by Emile Gagan and Georges Commeinhes. Cousteau himself however was not short of ideas and with his team developed a wide range of other products that would revolutionize the way we dive today.
Amongst them was the very first underwater scooter for divers. These little “lawnmowers with propellers” were very maneuverable, reached a speed of 5 km/h and could operate for an hour at a time.
He also developed small sumersibles that could easily be transported aboard of ships, his famous “diving saucer”, “La Soucoupe”, which from 1959 traveled with him aboard the Calypso during his expeditions, opened up completely new possibilities in his explorations of the sea floor. He nicknamed it “Denise”.
She is still in existence today and thus the oldest scientific submersible. She has done more than 1500 dives to date. But the list does not end here! He also invented the lighting systems and underwater cameras and housing for his films.
5 – Muslim or not?
Cousteau died on the 25th June 1997 from a heart attack. He was 87 years old. Despite rumors by some Islamic publications, Cousteau did not convert to Islam, and when he died he was buried in a Roman Catholic Christian funeral and buried in Saint-André-de-Cubzac in France. A street was named "rue du Commandant Cousteau" in a street which runs near his native house, where a commemorative plaque was affixed.
What are your thoughts about Jacques Cousteau? Did he inspire you too?
Let us know in the comments below
Article written by Rutger Thole who is an avid scuba diver and loves to travel, dive and write about scuba diving. Based in Amsterdam he runs bookyourdive.com and at least twice a year he plans a dive trip of the beaten track.