How Calypso, Jacques Cousteau’s Famed Research Vessel, May Rust to the Ground

by Owen James Burke

Aye Calypso the places you’ve been to,
The things that you’ve shown us,
The stories you tell.


Calypso sits sadder and lonelier than ever at the Piriou shipyard in Brittany, France. Photo: Olivier Bernard/Creative Commons.

In 1950, Undersea explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau leased a decommissioned Royal Navy minesweeper (then operating as a ferry to and fro Malta) from the Guinness family, for one franc per year. He modified the 400-ton vessel into a mothership of ocean science: additions included a state-of-the-art marine research lab and a film studio.

In the radio room of Calypso

Jacques Cousteau kicks back Calypso’s radio room. Photo: Musée Océanographique Monaco.

Jaques Yves Cousteau would spend almost forty years thereafter exploring the oceans, seas and rivers of the world at her helm. From Calypso he brought us “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau,” and influenced – and inspired – millions.

By the mid 1990’s, a long life of diving, filming and research at sea was starting to wear on Cousteau and his health. Calypso was in Singapore, and for once, fortunately Mr. Cousteau was not. In the year before his death in 1997, a barge accidentally rammed his 43-meter, 40-year-long companion and she sank to the bottom of Singapore harbor. She rested there for 17 days until being raised and brought back to the south of France, but she had to undergo extensive, expensive renovations just to remain intact. Now, per a settlement in a French Court which gave Francine Cousteau until March 11th of 2015 to settle a $300,000+ bill, the Brittany boatyard in which Calypso sits has the right to auction her off.

Take a tour through the Calypso with John Denver, who wrote the celebratory song about the famed research vessel that accompanies this video (above).


Calypso – during happier times. Photo: The Cousteau Society


Incontestably the best smile in the history of science. Photo: Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Future Society.

Cousteau passed on a year later in 1997 at the age of 86, as Calypso lay rotting in Marseilles.

She was subsequently towed to a museum where she was scheduled to be put on exhibit, but things fell through. What followed–and continues today–is a nearly two-decade long financial tangle between Francine Cousteau (Jacques Cousteau’s widowed, 2nd wife), the Guinness family, and since 2007, the Piriou Shipyard, to whom the large sum for restorations is owed.

That said, pay the $300k and she’s yours. Pascal Piriou, head of the Piriou Shipyard in Finistère where Calypso now rests on the hard, can’t stand to see her like that anymore. “I think we could find some rich people who might be interested and ready to come up with the money,” he told French media.

Read more at RFI, and watch an episode of “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” (“Search in the Deep of the Oceans”). –OJB

Further Readings:


Calypso, by Jacques-Yves Cousteau.


The Living Sea, by Jacques-Yves Cousteau.



The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, the complete series by Jacques-Yves Cousteau.

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