When Cousteau's wind ship Alcyone approached Catalina's Isthmus with me on board, I was about to fulfill one of my life's dreams... working on a Cousteau TV documentary! I spent the previous day, and the Channel crossing, photographing this technologically advanced vessel, even climbing up into the wind foils. Although I'd worked with personal computers for several years, it was amazing (especially to an IBM user) to see this vessel controlled by... yes, an Apple computer!
Alcyone stopped at Bird Rock where Jean-Michel Cousteau would be filmed passing an underwater torch as part of the "First Great Earth Walk." This event linked people around the world in hopes of achieving the all-elusive world peace. Before the divers submerged, the ship's electronic genius put on a diving helmet and held the torch mimicked another Frenchman's design, the Statue of Liberty.
While motoring down to Avalon, we passed Toyon Bay where my decades-long involvement with Jean-Michel and his team began. Many of those on board had been with us more than a decade before on the Project Ocean Search Catalina programs. Soon we entered Avalon Bay, and prepared for a reception giving residents an opportunity to tour the ship. Before welcoming our guests, Jean-Michel handed me a glass of French wine saying, "I think you need this." After the reception, he suggested a dinner at the Cousteau Society's Avalon "headquarters," the old Antonio's.
The following day the crew filmed at Farnsworth Bank and Jean-Michel went to the mainland. I picked him up the next morning, and we drove down to Toyon Bay to film some of CIMI's students learning to SCUBA dive. Alcyone rested on anchor there where 12 years before we stood on the deck of the magnificent sailing ship Golden Dawn to start our association.
Later that day the crew filmed the SCICo glassbottom boats in Lover's Cove from a "fish's eye view." Then we raced out to the Silver Canyon area to document the release of two bald eagles by the Institute for Wildlife Studies. Jean-Michel handed me a Sony Hi-8 camcorder and asked me to film the eagles in flight. In that moment I realized camcorders were useful for documenting wildlife as well as family reunions. This would be the start of my interest in using video to document Catalina's terrestrial and underwater critters.
Afterwards we jumped into my car and raced down the dirt road to meet the ship... only to find an Edison crew had locked the gate that Conservancy Ranger Dudley Morand had left open for us! The crew made light of the dilemma, and started playing frisbee with buffalo chips. I ended up driving backwards for several miles before finding someone with a key. I got the crew back in time for their departure to the Isthmus.
The next morning Jean-Michel telephoned and woke me with a minor emergency. The ship's portable generator had failed, and I was to pick up its replacement when it arrived in Avalon, and drive it out to Two Harbors, then have dinner on board. I borrowed a vehicle from Packy Offield and drove it down to the Isthmus only to find Alcyone had departed to rendezvous with another vessel offshore. I left the generator at Two Harbors and drove back to a cold can of soup instead of the fine French cuisine I had been promised.
After a week of filming along our coast and in the interior, Alcyone departed for the South Pacific... but there was no room for me at the inn, er on board. Filming for the two hour Channel Islands documentary continued. One amusing episode involved Jean-Michel interviewing John Gabriel Beckman who designed the wonderful art deco panels outside the Casino theater entrance back in 1928-29. Since I knew John, I arranged the interview.
John and Jean-Michel arrived at the heliport with film crew in tow. John saw Packy Offield there, and asked if he could see the 1/4 scale tile rendition of the mermaid panel that graced Packy and Wendy's master bedroom shower. Instead of driving everyone out to the Casino, we ended up conducting the interview in the Offield shower! When I agreed to work on this documentary, I expected to be filming in some exotic location in the future, not my friend's bathroom!
Once the filming was completed two decades ago, my work was over... for the time being. What began in 1974 on the tall ship Golden Dawn, had reached its fulfillment on the Alcyone. Although I never participated with the Cousteaus on a full-length documentary again... or should I say yet... I had fulfilled that life's goal. However, there were other adventures we shared in the intervening years. And it was during this time that I developed an understanding of the power of video in documenting natural history to present it to the public. "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" essentially had its birth while filming the bald eagles... and I continue that to this day.
© 2006 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 49, 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM weekdays. Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my "Munching and Mating in the Macrocystis," "Great White Sharks of Guadalupe," "Calimari Concupiscence: Mating Squid, " "Playful Pinnipeds: California Sea Lions," "Belize It or Not: Western Caribbean Invertebrates, Fish and Turtles" or "Gentle Giants: Giant Sea Bass" DVD's. Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!
Alcyone (left) and the Golden Dawn (r) intended for use in the early Project Ocean Search
Catalina programs; diver in high visibility wetsuit and communications helmet,
Jean-Michel Cousteau (both center images), and Carol Cable and Dr. Dick Murphy.
This document maintained by
Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2006 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia