When mid-August arrives, I know it is time to prepare for my annual trip to Howland's Landing on the West End of the island. Last year I did so in Packy's jeep, but it cost $50 to fill the tank so I looked for options that were more in line with a divebum's budget. Fortunately there was a luxury yacht the owner was willing to loan me so I could motor it single-handed up there. Well, Tim Mitchell's skiff may not be considered luxury to some, but I was most appreciative of being able to borrow it for the day. I packed a dry bag with extra clothing, foul weather gear and my cameras for the trip; filled an extra gas can at the fuel dock just in case and headed out on my little adventure. Tim had never taken the skiff that far up the coast, so we weren't sure if a full tank would be enough for the round trip.
I kept a careful watch out for blue whales as I motored along at a fair clip. Just two days earlier my friends Geline and Bryan had a blue whale suddenly surface in front of their boat and ended up flying over it. Apparently the whale survived with only a few scratches. I wish I could say the same for the boat as I was looking forward to diving on it this month. Fortunately no whales popped up in my erratic path, only a mainland dive boat that zoomed across my bow kicking up a wake that forced me to stop dead in the water.
I arrived at Howland's in good time, tied the skiff up to the float and went ashore. I walked in the direction of the "porpoise" for my visit, an animated man in gray hair and beard standing talking to someone in front of the lab. I stopped about 10 feet away, but he was in such intense conversation he didn't notice. Within seconds another old friend popped out from the lab to sort through some algae samples. He saw me and said "Jean-Michel, look... Bill Bushing is here." My expedition up our leeward coast was to visit with two friends, Jean-Michel Cousteau and Dr. Richard "Murph" Murphy. Thirty-seven years ago in Toyon Bay, I met Murph on board the Golden Dawn, a tallship Jean-Michel hoped to cruise the Channel Islands on with the Catalina Island School where I taught as its base. Two years later, in 1976, the first of the Cousteau Project Ocean Search Catalina programs was held on land there where I taught marine biology.
Back in the late 1980s I worked with Packy Offield and the SCICo to try to secure a land base for Jean-Michel's programs here on Catalina. I went out to Santa Cruz Island in 1989 to dive with JMC and Murph and talk about a possibility. That effort, focused on Emerald Bay, turned into a PR disaster when politically powerful friends of the existing tenant raised a stink. I think if the public knew the truth about that situation, the reaction would have been much different. Later Packy was able to forge an agreement with the Catalina Island Camps and the Horner family to use their Howland's Landing facility as a base for Cousteau Family Camp and CELP, the Catalina Environmental Leadership Program, part of Cousteau's worldwide Ambassadors of the Environment efforts. This is the 13th year Family Camp has been offered there.
Jean-Michel suggested we go over to the dining area and have a cup of tea as we caught up. The two of us sat there chatting for over an hour. Other than the strictly personal stuff... life, family, etc., one of the topics was the direction underwater cinematography would be taking. Jean-Michel is firmly convinced that video in the future would be focused on 3-D since standard high definition (HD) televisions will no longer be sold after a certain date, and all new ones will be 3-D capable. That means we underwater cinematographers will have to acquire expensive 3-D cameras and housings to compete. Jean-Michel and his Ocean Futures organization are partnering with a group that has been filming in 3-D for 17 years. I don't have that kind of pull, and having recently invested in new technology for HD filming, I certainly don't have the $$$. I've been in underwater video long enough to have passed through five previous technological "breakthroughs." However, I look forward to Jean-Michel's new offerings.
Another topic of conversation was one of his new projects, a documentary detailing through interviews with public figures how Jean-Michel's father, the legendary Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau, influenced many of the world's leading figures during his life. Of course he greatly influenced me and many other divers, but most of us are hardly world leaders. The documentary has already been released in France and the English version is currently being completed. Jean-Michel will focus on a number of leaders that the public may not realize were influenced by "The Captain." One of those we talked about was Mikhail Gorbachev, the last head of the USSR. I was aware of that influence because I knew of the talks they had, and of a very special painting entitled "The Cold War is Over" presented to Gorbachev in 1990 by another friend, Margery Spielman, who I worked with during the filming of the 1986 Cousteau documentary on the Channel Islands.
Just after Noon we were joined by Holly Lohuis, a dive buddy and co-star with Jean-Michel in several of his most recent documentaries. We talked about the reason they were here on Catalina... the Cousteau Family Camp. This program offers families a chance to spend time in close quarters with Jean-Michel, Murph, Holly and others from Cousteau's Ocean Futures organization. As he always has during the time I've known him, Jean-Michel loves to interact with participants one-on-one and in small groups. Folks interested in participating in next year's Family Camp should check out the web page at http://www.catalinaislandcamps.com/jean-michel-cousteau-family-camp. The CELP program gives school aged children an opportunity to come to Catalina, learn about our magnificent kelp forests, the ecological links between the land and sea, and discover ways to minimize our daily impacts on these environments.
I had a rather humorous moment while chatting with Jean-Michel and Holly. Murph came up with a participant from the camp and introduced us saying he had asked "Is that THE Dr. Bill?" Imagine yours truly, a lowly divebum, being considered a "celebrity" by someone surrounded by real celebrity. Of course my efforts to educate people about the ocean that surrounds us had their start back in the days of the very first documentaries filmed by Jean-Michel's father. They have been nurtured further by my association with Jean-Michel and Murph over the past 35 years, as well as other ocean educators. Before lunch ended, I gave them both copies of my latest DVD on the California sea lion. Last year Jean-Michel had sent me a personalized copy of his book My Father, The Captain which I recommend to those who want to know more about both of these amazing men.
After lunch Jean-Michel and I talked some more before I said I had taken enough of his time and should cast off for Avalon. We walked down to the beach and stood on the pier, watching about 20 leopard sharks swimming around in circles in very shallow water. Jean-Michel said Holly had checked the school and they were all females, undoubtedly basking in the warm water to accelerate the development of the young inside them. Although JMC has been in and around the water since birth, and has traveled the world diving the best it has to offer, he was fascinated by these local critters. We observed them for a good half hour, interested in their behavior and ecology. Dominique, a Cousteau divemaster from Tahiti, came down with a dead flying fish they had found on the beach and used in teaching. He threw it in the water. Shortly thereafter Jean-Michel exclaimed enthusiastically that one of the sharks had taken the flying fish.
Here is a man who has never lost his childhood fascination with the sea, fostered by his incredible father, or his desire to share it with the rest of the world, especially families with young children. Anyone participating in Family Camp can readily see that as they interact with him and observe the gleam in his eyes. We on Catalina are blessed that Jean-Michel has a deep love for the island. He has a long-term desire to help protect our waters and educate people about their value both to humans and ecologically. Personally I would love to help expand his involvement with the marine environment here. You can help by visiting his Ocean Futures' web site (http://www.oceanfutures.org/) and supporting the organization.
© 2011 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 29, 10:00 AM weekdays and on Charter Communications Cable channel 33 at 7:30 PM on Tuesdays in the Riverside/Norco area. Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my DVD's (see this link). Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!
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Jean-Michel giving graduation address at the Catalina Island School in 1979; Dr. Bill and Jean-Michel on board
the windship Alcyone in Avalon, 1985; Margery Spielman's painting for Gorbachev and Jean-Michel,
Dr. Bill and Dr. Richard C. "Murph" Murphy at Cousteau Family Camp, Howland's Landing, 2011.
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Dr. Bill Bushing.
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