RV Calypso

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La calypso, vue d'ensemble.JPG
The Calypso in November 2007, at Concarneau.
Career (United Kingdom)
Class and type: British Yard Minesweeper
Mark 1 Class Motor Minesweeper
Name: HMS J-826
Builder: Ballard Marine Railway Company, Seattle, Washington, USA
Laid down: 12 August 1941
Launched: 21 March 1942
Commissioned: February 1943
Recommissioned: BYMS-2026 (1944)
Decommissioned: 1946
Renamed: Calypso G (1949)
Career (France)
Owner: Thomas Guinness
Operator: Compagnie Océanographique Française, Nice
Renamed: Calypso (1950)
Reclassified: Research vessel
Refit: For Cousteau (1951)
Fate: Sunk and raised (1996)
Status: Being refurbished under the direction of the Cousteau Society
General characteristics [1]
Tonnage: 294 GRT
Displacement: 360 tons
Length: 139 ft (42 m) (43 meters according to another source)[2]
Beam: 25 ft (7.6 m)
Draft: 10 ft (3.0 m)
Decks: Three
Installed power: 2 × 580 hp (430 kW) 8-cylinder General Motors diesel engines
Propulsion: twin screw
Speed: 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Crew: 27 in Captain's Quarters, Six Staterooms & Crew Quarters
Notes: Photo & Science Labs
Underwater observation chamber
Helicopter landing pad
Yumbo 3-ton hydraulic crane
Minisub storage hold

RV Calypso is a former British Royal Navy minesweeper converted into a research vessel for the oceanographic researcher Jacques-Yves Cousteau, equipped with a mobile laboratory for underwater field research. It was severely damaged in 1996, and is undergoing a complete refurbishment in 2009-2011. The ship is named after the Greek mythological figure Calypso.

World War II British minesweeper (1941–1947)[edit]

Calypso was originally a wooden-hulled minesweeper built by the Ballard Marine Railway Company of Seattle, Washington, USA for the United States Navy for loan to the British Royal Navy under lend-lease. She was built of Oregon pine.[3]

She was a BYMS (British Yard Minesweeper) Mark 1 Class Motor Minesweeper, laid down on 12 August 1941 with yard designation BYMS-26 and launched on 21 March 1942. She was commissioned into the Royal Navy in February 1943 as HMS J-826 and assigned to active service in the Mediterranean Sea, based in Malta, and was reclassified as BYMS-2026 in 1944. Following the end of World War II, she was decommissioned in July 1946 and laid up at Malta. On 1 August 1947 she was formally handed back to the US Navy and then struck from the US Naval Register, remaining in lay-up.[4]

Maltese ferry (1949–1950)[edit]

In May 1949 she was purchased by Joseph Gasan of Malta, who had secured the mail contract on the ferry route between Marfa, in the north of Malta, and Mġarr, Gozo in 1947.[4] She was converted for to a ferry and renamed Calypso G after the nymph Calypso, whose island of Ogygia was mythically associated with Gozo, entering service in March 1950. After only four months on the route, Gasan received an attractive offer and sold her.[4]

Jacques-Yves Cousteau's Calypso (1950–1997)[edit]

The Irish millionaire and former MP, Thomas Loel Guinness bought Calypso in July 1950 and leased her to Cousteau for a symbolic one franc a year. He had two conditions, that Cousteau never ask him for money and that he never reveal his identity, which only came out after Cousteau's death. Cousteau restructured and transformed the ship into an expedition vessel and support base for diving, filming and oceanographic research.

Calypso carried advanced equipment, including one- and two-man mini submarines developed by Cousteau, diving saucers, and underwater scooters. The ship was also fitted with a see-through "nose" and an observation chamber three metres below the waterline, and was modified to house scientific equipment and a helicopter pad. The Calypso underwater camera is named after this ship.

On 8 January 1996, a barge accidentally rammed Calypso and sank her in the port of Singapore. On 16 January, she was raised by a 230-foot crane, patched, and pumped dry before being put in shipyard.[5]

The next year, Jacques-Yves Cousteau died on 25 June 1997.

Restoration (1997–present)[edit]

Calypso at La Rochelle (1999)
Calypso's bow extending from the Piriou shipyard's hangar in which she is stored (January 2014)

Calypso was later towed to Marseille, France, where she lay neglected for two years.[3] Thereafter she was towed to the basin of the Maritime Museum of La Rochelle in 1998, where she was intended to be an exhibit.

A long series of legal and other delays kept any restoration work from beginning. Francine Cousteau managed to organize the ship's restoration. A dispute arose between Francine Cousteau, the widow of Jacques Cousteau, and Loel Guinness, grandson of the original owner.

When this dispute was discovered by the sponsoring Mayor of La Rochelle, it added to the air of uncertainty and hesitancy over funding the restoration. When the mayor subsequently died, the city of La Rochelle withdrew as a source of funding for the restoration. Calypso remained in disrepair.[3]

In 2002, Alexandra, Cousteau's granddaughter from his first marriage, stepped in to help organize restoration. The Cousteau Society, controlled by Francine Cousteau, reportedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend Francine's exclusive use of the name, and to prevent Alexandra's participation in the restoration of Calypso.[6]

In July 2003, Patrick Schnepp, director of the La Rochelle maritime museum, expressed his frustration at the inability to restore the ship to fit condition: "The whole affair disgusts me... Everything that's not broken is rotten, and everything that's not rotten is broken." The Guardian reported that he desired to see the ship towed off the Île de Ré and scuttled, as Jacques-Yves Cousteau had envisioned would have been the ship's original fate had he not been granted its use.[3]

On 30 November 2004 it was erroneously reported Calypso had been sold by Loel Guinness, to Carnival Cruise Lines. Carnival stated they intended to give the vessel a 1.3 million dollar (1 million euro) restoration, and then likely moor her in the Bahamas as a museum ship.[7]

In late 2006, Loel Guinness transferred ownership of "Calypso" to the Cousteau Society for the symbolic sum of one Euro. The transfer was part of a plan of restoration led by Francine Cousteau. A legal battle regarding ownership of the vessel ensued which was resolved in favor of the Cousteau Society in October 2007. The restoration project then resumed.

On 11 October 2007, the transfer of the ship to Concarneau started, where she was to be restored at the Piriou Shipyard and transformed into a permanent exhibit.[8]

On 4 October 2008, Swiss watch manufacturer IWC Schaffhausen produced a new luxury chronograph, sold to raise proceeds for the restoration of Calypso.[9]

Restoration work on the Calypso stopped in February 2009, ironically after the delivery of the Calypso's new engines built by Volvo, because of the non-payment of bills by Francine Cousteau.[10] Piriou sued, claiming to be owed over €850 000, of the estimated total €1 737 000, for work already done on the ship. The ship was stored in one of the ship builder's hangars.

The Cousteau Society filed a counter-suit for defective work. As of March 2009 the Cousteau Society reported that Francine Cousteau was directing the restoration of Calypso as an "ambassador for the seas and oceans".[11] The restoration was to be a complete refurbishment making Calypso a self-powered mobile "ambassador".[12]

In June 2010 the BBC reported that the Calypso was to be relaunched to mark the centenary of Jacques Cousteau's birth.[13] However, this 2010 centenary passed without progress.

In September 2013, a petition was launched on change.org that requested that the ship be saved and be added to the French patrimoine national (national heritage). Within three weeks the petition collected 6000 signatures. The Cousteau Society had made a similar request of the French government in 2010. As of October 2013 the Piriou shipyard stated that they expected a resolution from the tribunal de commerce (business court) in Quimper within a few weeks, setting the stage for the restoration of the ship by Piriou or another shipyard.[2]

The Calypso in popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]