Jacques – Yves Cousteau: man overboard

“Man overboard!” – such a cry can alarm anyone on the ship. It means that you need to quit your job and urgently save a dying comrade. But in the case of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, this rule did not work. This man-legend spent most of his life “overboard”. The last command of Cousteau, which no one seemed to have heard, was a call not only to dive into the sea, but to live in it. 

Philosophy flow 

One hundred years ago, on June 11, 1910, the famous explorer of the World Ocean, the author of many films about the sea, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, was born in France. Young Jacques-Yves began diving into the deep blue sea back in the twenties of the last century. He quickly became addicted to spearfishing. And in 1943, together with the brilliant designer of underwater equipment, Emil Gagnan, he created a single-stage air supply regulator for the diver’s life support system (in fact, it was the younger brother of the modern two-stage one). That is, Cousteau actually gave us scuba gear, as we know it now – a safe means for diving to great depths. 

In addition, Jacques Cousteau, a photographer and director, stood at the very origins of underwater photo and video filming. He designed and tested at a depth of twenty meters the first 35 mm video camera in a waterproof housing for underwater filming. He developed special lighting equipment that allowed shooting at depth (and at that time the film sensitivity reached only 10 ISO units), invented the first underwater television system … And much more. 

A truly revolutionary was the Diving Saucer mini-submarine (first model, 1957) created under his leadership and resembling a flying saucer. The device turned out to be the most successful representative of its class. Cousteau liked to call himself an “oceanographic technician”, which, of course, only partly reflects his talent. 

And, of course, Jacques-Yves created dozens of amazing popular science films during his long productive life. The first, designed for the mass audience, the film of this non-professional director and upstart oceanologist (as venerable scientists called him) – “The World of Silence” (1956) received the “Oscar” and the “Palm Branch” of the Cannes Film Festival (it was, by the way, first non-fiction film to win the Palme d’Or. The second film (“The Story of the Red Fish”, 1958) also received an Oscar, proving that the first Oscar was not an accident … 

In our country, the researcher won people’s love thanks to the television series Cousteau’s Underwater Odyssey. However, the opinion that in the mass consciousness Cousteau remained only as the creator of a series of popular films (and the inventor of modern scuba gear) is not true. 

Who Jacques-Yves was really like is a pioneer. 

planet captain 

Comrades called Cousteau an actor and a showman for a reason. He was amazingly good at finding sponsors and always got what he wanted. For example, he found his ship “Calypso” long before its acquisition, literally following him (with his family) for several years, wherever he sailed … and, finally, he received the ship as a gift from the Irish millionaire Guinness. The beer tycoon, impressed by the activities of Cousteau, in 1950 contributed most of the amount needed to buy the coveted “Calypso” from the British Navy (this is a former minesweeper), and leased Cousteau for an unlimited period for a symbolic one franc per year … 

“Captain” – this is how he is called in France, sometimes called the “Captain of the Planet.” And his comrades called him simply – “King”. He knew how to attract people to him, to infect with his interest and love for the depths of the sea, to organize and rally into a team, to inspire a search bordering on a feat. And then lead this team to victory. 

Cousteau was by no means a lone hero, he willingly used the talents of the people around him: the engineering talent of E. Gagnan and later A. Laban, the literary gift of the co-author of his famous book “The World of Silence” F. Dumas, the experience of Professor Edgerton – the inventor of the electronic flash – and the influence of his father-in-law in the company Air Liquide, which produced underwater equipment … Cousteau liked to repeat: “At dinner, always choose the best oyster. In this way, until the very last, all oysters will be the best.” In his work, he always used only the most advanced equipment, and what was not there, he invented. It was a real Winner in the American sense of the word. 

His faithful comrade Andre Laban, whom Cousteau took as a sailor with a week’s probation and who then sailed with him for 20 years, until the very end, compared him with Napoleon. Cousteau’s team loved their Captain as only Napoleonic soldiers could love their idol. True, Cousteau did not fight for world domination. He fought for sponsorship of underwater research programs, for the study of the World Ocean, for expanding the boundaries not only of his native France, but of the entire ecumene, the human-inhabited Universe. 

Workers, sailors Cousteau understood that they were on the ship more than hired employees. They were his comrades-in-arms, comrades-in-arms, who were always ready to follow him into the fire and, of course, into the water, where they worked, sometimes for days, often for a nominal fee. The entire crew of the Calypso – Cousteau’s beloved and only ship – understood that they were the Argonauts of the twentieth century and were participating in a historical and, in a way, mythical voyage, in the discovery of the century, in the crusade of mankind into the depths of the ocean, in a victorious offensive into the depths of the unknown … 

Prophet of the Deep 

In his youth, Cousteau experienced a shock that changed his life. In 1936, he served in the naval aviation, was fond of cars and high speeds. The consequences of this hobby were the saddest for the young man: he had a serious car accident in his father’s sports car, received a displacement of the vertebrae, many broken ribs, a punctured lung. His hands were paralyzed… 

It was there, in the hospital, in the most difficult condition, that the young Cousteau experienced a kind of enlightenment. Just as Gurdjieff, after a bullet wound, realized the inadmissibility of using “exceptional force”, so Cousteau, after an unsuccessful racing experience, decided “to come and look around, to look at obvious things from a new angle. Rise above the bustle and look at the sea for the first time…” The accident put a big fat cross on the career of a military pilot, but gave the world an inspired researcher, even more – a kind of prophet of the sea. 

Exceptional willpower and a lust for life allowed Cousteau to recover from a severe injury and in less than a year to get on his feet. And from that moment on, his life was connected, by and large, with only one thing – with the sea. And in 1938 he met Philippe Tayet, who would become his godfather in free diving (without scuba gear). Cousteau later recalled that his whole life turned upside down at that moment, and he decided to devote himself entirely to the underwater world. 

Cousteau liked to repeat to his friends: if you want to achieve something in life, you should not scatter, move in one direction. Don’t try too hard, it’s better to apply a constant, unrelenting effort. And this was, perhaps, the credo of his life. He devoted all his time and energy to exploring the depths of the sea – to the grain, to the drop, putting everything on one card. And his efforts became truly sacred in the eyes of supporters. 

According to contemporaries, he possessed the will of a prophet and the charisma of a revolutionary. He shone and dazzled with his grandeur, like the famous French “Sun King” Louis XV. Companions considered their Captain not just a person – the creator of a real “diving religion”, the messiah of underwater research. This messiah, a man not of this world, a man overboard, beyond the limits, very rarely looked back towards land – only when there were not enough funds for the next project, and only until these funds appeared. He seemed to lack space on earth. The captain of the planet led his people – divers – into the depths of the ocean. 

And although Cousteau was neither a professional diver, nor an oceanographer, nor a certified director, he made record dives and opened a new page in the study of the oceans. He was the Captain with a capital C, the helmsman of Change, capable of sending humanity on a great voyage. 

His main goal (to which Cousteau went all his life) is to expand human consciousness, and eventually conquer new spaces for people to live. underwater spaces. “Water covers seventy percent of the surface of our planet,” said André Laban, “and there is enough space for all people.” On land, “there are too many laws and rules, freedom is dissolved.” It is clear that Laban, uttering these words, voiced not just a personal problem, but the idea of ​​the entire team, the idea that moved the entire Cousteau team forward. 

This is how Cousteau understood the prospects for the development of the World Ocean: to expand the boundaries of human habitation, to build cities under water. Science fiction? Belyaev? Professor Challenger? Maybe. Or maybe the mission that Cousteau took on was not so fantastic. After all, his ambitious projects to study the possibility of long-term stay under water (and ultimately a full life there) were crowned with some success. “Underwater houses”, “Precontinent-1”, “Precontinent-2”, “Precontinent-3”, “Homo aquaticus”. The experiments were carried out at a depth of up to 110 meters. Helium-oxygen mixtures were mastered, the basic principles of life support and calculation of decompression modes were worked out … In general, a precedent was created. 

It is worth noting that Cousteau’s experiments were not some crazy, useless idea. Similar experiments were also carried out in other countries: in the USA, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Poland, and European countries. 

Amphibian Man 

Cousteau never thought about depths less than 100 meters. He was simply not attracted by the incomparably easier projects at shallow and medium depths of 10–40 meters, where compressed air or nitrogen-oxygen mixtures can be used, on which the vast majority of underwater work is carried out during normal times. As if he had survived the Second World War, he was waiting for a powerful global cataclysm, preparing for the fact that he would have to go deep for a long time … But these are just guesses. At that time, the authorities refused to continue research, noting their extreme high cost. 

Perhaps they were scared away by some very “outboard”, “challenger” ideas of Cousteau. So, he dreamed of inventing special pulmonary-cardiac automata that would inject oxygen directly into the blood of a person. Quite a modern idea. In general, Cousteau was on the side of surgical intervention in the human body in order to adapt it for life under water. That is, I wanted to ultimately create a “superhuman amphibian” and settle him in the “water world” … 

Cousteau has always been attracted by depth not as a naturalist or sportsman, but as a pioneer of new life horizons. In 1960, he participated in the preparation of the historic (the only one made by people!) dive of Swiss oceanologist Professor Jacques Picard and US Navy Lieutenant Donald Walsh on the Trieste bathyscaphe into the deepest known area of ​​the ocean (“Challenger Deep”) – the Mariana Trench (depth 10 920 m). The professor plunged to a record depth of 3200 meters, partly repeating in real life the adventure of the hero of the popular science epic Conan Doyle, the half-mad Professor Challenger from the novel The Maracot Abyss (1929). Cousteau provided underwater surveys on this expedition. 

But it should be understood that just as Picard and Walsh did not dive for the sake of fame, so the valiant “Argonauts” of Cousteau did not work for a record, unlike some, let’s say, professionals. Laban, for example, bluntly called such athletes “crazy.” By the way, Laban, a good artist, at the end of his life began to paint his marine paintings … under water. It is possible that the “Challenger” dream of Cousteau haunts him today. 

Ecology Cousteau 

As you know, “the baron is famous not for the fact that he flew or did not fly, but for the fact that he does not lie.” Cousteau did not dive for fun, to watch the fish swim between the corals, and not even to shoot an exciting movie. Unbeknownst to himself, he attracted the mass audience (who is very far from overcoming the boundaries of the known) to the media product that is now sold under the National Geographic and BBC brands. Cousteau was alien to the idea of ​​creating just a beautiful moving picture. 

Odyssey Cousteau today 

The legendary ship Jacques-Yves, which served him faithfully, sank in the harbor of Singapore in 1996, accidentally colliding with a barge. This year, in honor of the centenary of Cousteau’s birth, his second wife, Francine, decided to give her late husband a belated gift. She stated that within a year the ship would be restored to its full glory. Currently, the ship is getting a rebirth, it is being restored at the docks of Consarno (Brittany), and using exclusively environmentally friendly materials (for example, the hull will be caulked with hemp tow) – the ship, according to the fashion trend, will become “green” … 

It would seem that a reason to rejoice and wish “six feet under the keel”? However, this news leaves a double feeling: the Cousteau Team website says that the ship will again surf the blue expanses as a goodwill ambassador and oversee the ecological order in the seven seas. But there are rumors that, in fact, after the restoration of the ship, Francine is going to arrange an American-sponsored museum in the Caribbean from Calypso. It was precisely such an outcome that Cousteau himself opposed in 1980, denoting his position clearly: “I would prefer to flood it instead of turning it into a museum. I do not want this legendary ship to be traded, for people to come on board and have picnics on the decks. Well, we won’t participate in the picnic. It is enough that we remember Cousteau’s dream, which causes a wave of anxiety – a man overboard. 

Hope, as always, for the new generation: or rather, for the son of Jacques-Yves, who since childhood was everywhere with his father, shared his love for the sea and underwater adventures, swam under water in all seas from Alaska to Cape Horn, and when he discovered the talent of an architect in himself, he began to seriously think about houses and even entire cities … under water! He even took a number of steps in this direction. True, so far Jean-Michel, whose beard has already turned gray, although his blue eyes still burn deep as the sea with fire, has become disappointed in his project of a “new Atlantis”. “Why voluntarily deprive yourself of daylight and complicate the communication of people among themselves?” he summed up his failed attempt to relocate people underwater. 

Now Jean-Michel, who has taken up his father’s work in his own way, is actively involved in environmental projects, trying to save the depths of the sea and their inhabitants from death. And his work is unrelenting. This year, Cousteau turns 100 years old. In this regard, the United Nations has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity. According to her, on the verge of extinction on the planet are from 12 to 52 percent of species known to science …

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