Aye, Calypso, the places you’ve been to,
The things that you’ve shown us,
The stories you tell!
Jacques Cousteau’s 141-foot research vessel, the Calypso, has notched up yet another port of call and, oh, the stories she can tell now. Though perhaps not as exotic as 1982’s trip up the steamy Amazon River or 1976’s Aegean journey in search of the legendary Atlantis, her stately 12-mile chug down the prosaic Potomac River a couple of Sundays back will provide as many memories as any trip she’s made in the 34 years since Cousteau’s been at the helm. For it was the Captain’s 75th birthday, and 2,400 friends of the famed French oceanographer and ecologist were on hand at Mount Vernon to wish him a bon anniversaire.
The funding ($200,000) for the birthday bash came from media tycoon Ted Turner, while the entertainment was provided by singer John Denver, a longtime member of the Cousteau Society. Where Denver and Turner tread, a TV special is bound to follow, and sure enough, a show titled Jacques Cousteau: The First 75 Years airs Sunday, June 23.
It was a festive, if muggy, afternoon. Jazz and calypso music wafted across the verdant lawns of George Washington’s home. After a buffet dinner served under white tents, Denver led the guests in his 1975 paean to Cousteau’s ship, Aye, Calypso, as well as Happy Birthday. Cousteau himself downplayed the occasion. “It’s entirely artificial,” he said. “Nature doesn’t count days. Monkeys and mosquitoes don’t have birthdays.”
But mariners do. When it was over, Cousteau was eager to return to sea. “A ship is not meant to be at anchor,” said the guest of honor philosophically. “It becomes rusty. The arteries of the ship clog, just like the arteries of people who remain at anchor.” In August Cousteau sets sail on a five-year, $15 million odyssey sponsored by Turner that will take him to New Zealand, China, the Indian Ocean and the Congo River. “There’s plenty to see, to dive, to discover,” says the tireless explorer whose favorite body of water is “the one I’ve never been at.”