(Above left) Diver Clay Wilcox from New York helps in the galley. (Above right) Diver Marc Blessington from southern England and Michel Deloire
Alcyone was the revolutionary sailboat being tested by Cousteau’s team. The ship arrived in Australia via the port of Cairns, North Queensland.
We knew she was on her way. Charter boat Coralita had met them at Osprey Reef and exchanged stories and especially some fresh fish as the French crew were low on food supplies.
They met skipper Alby Ziebell and told of having just filmed a pair of killer whales catching? and eating a hammerhead shark underwater, plus a manta ray – both on 35mm motion picture film.
A few weeks later Christine Danaher and I were invited aboard while the boat was docked in Cairns. We learned the boat carries 5000 gallons of fuel, 800 liters of fresh water – sufficient for one month at sea.
Contrasting Calypso expeditions of the past, where the entire crew was French-speaking nationals, the Alcyone crew had a pair of young English-speaking divers as part of the 12-man team aboard which consisted of: captain, two mechanics,cook,two divers, a chief diver,underwater cameraman, above water cameraman, camera assistant, soundman.
Everyone had dual-jobs.
We also met the cinematographer Michel Deloire, probably responsible for most of the filming we’d seen in The Underwater World of Jacques Cousteau. Deloire has worked as a cameraman on feature films in France with actors Brigitte Bardot and that other French icon, Catherine Deneuve.
Deloire got in the the water with a 3-meter saltwater crocodile in the Jardine River. The first person I knew of in Australia to do such a thing. “It was very friendly” said Deloire.
(Underwater filming equipment, there were ‘special camera’s’ with lens such as a 5.7mm to 37.5mm zoom, 9.8mm Kinoptic, 18mm Cook).
When asked of his most special dive anywhere in the world, Deloire considered it was probably the Fontaine Vaucluse, an underwater cave that was a very emotional place.
Christine and I were treated to a video (of our choice) downstairs. We chose the one featuring Jack McKenney as a guest underwater cameraman working with Alcyone on the freezing southern tip of South America.
The guys gave us a good guided tour. Nothing was out-of-bounds. It was a friendly and behind-the-scenes look at how the then current series was being put together. This was still the age of film – video was yet to catch up to the quality of celluloid.
Meanwhile Jacques Cousteau had invited Sir Peter Blake (the New Zealand yachting champion of The America’s Cup fame) to head the Cousteau Society only to have Sir Peter murdered in the Amazon by would-be pirates as he wrestled to take a rifle from one of them. The gun discharged during the struggle. The bandit was captured and jailed.
Then Jacques Cousteau himself passed away. Somewhere in between the famed Calypso sank at her harbor mooring.
It was a tragic chain of events.
The Calypso has been restored but the modern American Cousteau ‘family’ is divided with extensive legal proceedings – usually over who can use the Cousteau name and in what context.
An interview in a French magazine (Paris Match) before his death showed Jacques looking very happy with his second wife Francine, and his two children to her, both young adults today. Jacques answered very hard and personal questions.
The Cousteau name continues nicely in cyberspace. http://cousteau.org This is the European organization headed by Francine Cousteau.
Google: “clay wilcox” diver brings up Jack McKenney and his book featuring time spent aboard Alcyone and several hours at an airport with Captain Cousteau himself. The pressures of fame etc.
Google: “marc blessington” diver alcyone and the only entry is a Spanish blog features Cousteau diver memorabilia. The plastic dive helmets, a mask worn by Albert Falco etc. Very interesting for collectors.
Google: “michel deloire cameraman” has an extensive listing. (My apology for the incorrect name spelling on the picture caption above).