RV Calypso

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 was planned to undergo a complete refurbishment in 2009-2011. The ship is named after the Greek mythological figure Calypso.

The research vessel Calypso of Captain Cousteau arriving in Montreal on 30 August 1980.
United Kingdom
Class and type:
Name: HMS J-826
Builder: Ballard Marine Railway Company, Seattle, Washington, United States
Laid down: 12 August 1941
Launched: 21 March 1942
Commissioned: February 1943
Recommissioned: BYMS-2026 (1944)
Decommissioned: 1946
Renamed: Calypso G (1949)
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
  • Photo & Science Labs
  • Underwater observation chamber
  • Helicopter landing pad
  • Yumbo 3-ton hydraulic crane
  • Minisub storage hold

World War II British minesweeper (1941–1947)

Calypso was originally a minesweeper built by the Ballard Marine Railway Company of Seattle, Washington, United States for the United States Navy for loan to the British Royal Navy under lend-lease. A wooden-hulled vessel, she is 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)

In May 1949 she was bought 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 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)

The British millionaire and former MP, Thomas Loel Guinness bought Calypso in July 1950.[5][6] He 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. One of the more unusual expeditions involving the vessel was a survey of Abu Dhabi waters conducted by Cousteau on behalf of British Petroleum (BP) in 1954 - the first and last time it was used for an oil survey.[7]

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 3 metres (9.8 ft) 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 (70 m) crane, patched, and pumped dry before being put in shipyard.[8]

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

Restoration (1997–present)

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, the widow of Jacques Cousteau, managed to organize the ship's restoration. A dispute arose between Francine 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 the 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.[9]

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.[10]

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. Legal proceedings between COF (Campagnes Océaniques Françaises) and the Cousteau Society over ownership of the vessel were concluded by the Court of Cassation in Paris with a judgement in favor of the latter in December 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.[11]

On 4 October 2008, Swiss watch manufacturer IWC Schaffhausen produced a new luxury chronograph, sold to raise proceeds for the restoration of Calypso.[12]

Restoration work on Calypso stopped in February 2009 after the delivery of Calypso's new engines built by Volvo, because of the non-payment of bills by Francine Cousteau.[13] 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".[14] The restoration was to be a complete refurbishment making Calypso a self-powered mobile "ambassador".[15]

In June 2010 the BBC reported that Calypso was to be relaunched to mark the centenary of Jacques Cousteau's birth.[16] 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 (commercial court) in Quimper within a few weeks, setting the stage for the restoration of the ship by Piriou or another shipyard.[2]

In March, 2015, after a long legal battle, a French court has ordered Francine Cousteau, the second wife and widow of Jacques Cousteau, to settle outstanding yard bills of €273,000 and remove Calypso from a Brittany shipyard or the shipyard will be allowed to sell the vessel.[17] On 6 January 2016 the Cousteau Society announced that a solution had been found to allow the ship to return to service, complete with the new Volvo engines.[18]

In September 2017 a fire damaged the Calypso at the shipyard near Istanbul, Turkey where her refitting has been in progress since April 2016. Only the newly fitted wooden parts of the ship were affected, not the original historical structural elements.[19]

Heritage Malta announced on 21 February 2019 that a selection of objects will be loaned by the Cousteau Foundation for an exhibition at the Malta Maritime Museum in 2021. A wooden rib taken from the original vessel, included in this exhibition, will subsequently be donated to Malta's national collection.[20]

As at 19 November 2019, there is news[21][22] that the Calypso has been stripped down to an empty hull, and that Marco Cobau has had its keel straightened; the curve arose by the keel carrying heavy weights at its ends over its lifetime.

See also


  1. "Sea Sabres: The Calypso: The stories she could tell!". 23 July 2003. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016.
  2. "Une pétition pour "sauver" la Calypso du commandant Cousteau". Le Point. Agence France Presse. 7 October 2013. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  3. Henley, Jon (28 July 2003). "Cousteau family row may sink his ark; Watery grave awaits famous vessel in dispute over its future". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  4. Somner, Graeme (1982). Ferry Malta. Kendal: World Ship Society. pp. 11–12, 31. ISBN 0-905617-19-3.
  5. Olmstead, Kathleen (2008). Jacques Cousteau: A Life Under the Sea. ISBN 9781402760587.
  6. "Le nouvel Economiste". 1996.
  7. Morton, Michael Quentin (June 2015). "Calypso in the Arabian Gulf: Jacques Cousteau's Undersea Survey of 1954". Liwa. 5 (9): 3–28. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  8. "Cousteau's Calypso rescued in Singapore". CNN. 25 January 1996. Archived from the original on 1 September 2000. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  9. Flowers, Charles (4 March 2003). "The Cousteau Wars". CDNN. Archived from the original on April 29, 2014.
  10. "Cousteau's expedition ship Calypso sold for one euro". CDNN. 30 November 2004. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016.
  11. "La Calypso a quitté La Rochelle jeudi matin pour être restaurée à Concarneau". Le Monde. 11 October 2007. Archived from the original on 29 November 2013.
  12. "IWC Involved in Protecting The World's Oceans; Aquatimer Chronograph 'Cousteau Divers' watch supports conservation efforts". Middle East Business News. 4 October 2008. Archived from the original on 20 November 2008.
  13. Mesgouez, Dominique (2 February 2010). "La Calypso de Cousteau dans une mauvaise passe". Ouest France. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  14. "Calypso Saved!". Cousteau Society. 2009. Archived from the original on April 2, 2009.
  15. "New Calypso's engines delivered to Francine Cousteau!". Cousteau Society. 16 February 2009. Archived from the original on 22 April 2009.
  16. "Jacques Cousteau's ship Calypso is to be re-launched". BBC News. 8 June 2010. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  17. "French shipyard threatens to sell Jacques Cousteau's boat". The Guardian. 12 March 2015. Retrieved 9 July 2017.
  18. "Calypso set to sail again!". Cousteau Society. Archived from the original on 7 January 2016. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  19. https://www.cousteau.org/english/cousteau---calypso-subit-un-sinistre_cd2_166.html
  20. "Cousteau exhibits in Malta in 2021". Times of Malta. 21 February 2019. Retrieved 2019-02-21.
  21. https://www.cousteau.org/news/at-the-heart-of-calypso-part-1/
  22. http://www.lastampa.it/2017/03/07/societa/mare/litaliano-che-sta-riportando-a-nuova-vita-la-calypso-di-cousteau-3SZJ6AFwihwHd4zIeHwOCJ/pagina.html (in Italian)
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