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 (Wikipedia entry). The Deception Island visit was documented in the first of four episodes, South to Fire and Ice (video link below). Video from this visit would also appear in his later film Voyage to the Edge of the World (Wikipedia article).

At one point in at least one 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).

A tragic event occurred on 29 December 1972--it was depicted in one of the television shows...Calypso's helicopter landed badly on a slope, and because of its angle to the ground, a tail rotor blade struck Calypso's first mate (and paleontologist) Michel Laval. The injured man was brought aboard ship 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 his ship, Lenie's assistance was also left out of the show. And needless to say, there are no photos (yet !?) from this encounter. But...this video describes Michel's death--go to 43:27 for coverage. 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 the story. That photo of Calypso in Port Foster is a clip from the video mentioned above.