Hero and Calypso at Deception Island, 1972-73

Calypso in Port Foster
Jacques Cousteau's ship RV Calypso in Port Foster, Deception Island. December 1972

Captain Pieter Lenie and the R/V Hero would cross paths more than once this summer with Jacques Cousteau and his converted WWII (and built in Seattle from Oregon pine) Royal Navy minesweeper/research vessel Calypso...interestingly both vessels had wooden hulls. Perhaps the strangest encounter occurred at Port Foster, that unique natural harbor encircled by Deception Island, in the 1972-73 season. The Hero deployed a glaciological party on Deception Island on 16 December before continuing on to Palmer Station...while Cousteau was doing filming at Deception for his television show The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. The Deception Island visit was documented in what eventually became Episode 25, South to Fire and Ice (Wikipedia entry listing all episodes).Video from this visit (see video link below) would also appear in his later film Voyage to the Edge of the World (Wikipedia article).

At one point in at least one reported airing of the TV show, the screen depicted Calypso at anchor in Port Foster (the Deception Island volcano caldera/harbor), and in the voiceover, Cousteau declares, "We are alone in Antarctica." But in reality, Hero was anchored directly beside Calypso but just out of the camera frame (this quote is missing from the current video and the film Voyage to the Edge of the World). According to the March/April 1973 Antarctic Journal, Hero left Palmer on 25 December 1972 to visit King George, Deception, and Livingston Islands before returning to Palmer Station on the 30th.

A tragic event occurred on 29 December 1972--it was depicted in one of the television shows but not in any of the current video...Calypso's helicopter landed badly on a slope, and because of its angle to the ground, a tail rotor blade struck Calypso's 31-year-old first mate and paleontologist Michel Laval, who had lost his footing and fallen. The injured man was brought aboard the Calypso, and Cousteau summoned Lenie over to look at him and determine his injuries. "Injured?" Lenie famously remarked after a brief examination, "Hell, this man is dead!" Which he was. Further documentation...this brief clipping from the 30 December 1972 Long Beach Independent Press Telegram.

Like Hero, Lenie's assistance also went unmentioned in Cousteau's videos. And needless to say, there are no photos (yet !?) from this encounter. But...this video describes Michel's death--go to 43:27 for discussion of the incident. Earlier, the video depicts Michel leading the climbing venture up the volcano, and celebrating Christmas with the Calypso team. Although the video states that he slipped on mountain ice, we know better.

Credits...the amazing information here was shared by Gary Bennett; the original source was Hero crewman John Lohr, who was not there at the time but did hear and relate the story. That photo of Calypso in Port Foster is a clip from the video mentioned above.