Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#220: Daughter of the Wind, Part I

Tis the season for dreams to come true. Democrats regaining control of Congress... could world peace be far behind? Seriously, since childhood the holidays have been a time when little boys and girls had visions of things to come, dreams they hoped would be fulfilled. You know, that red wagon, the spaceman's helmet, the Barbie doll, and more recently the Tickle Me Elmo, the personal cell phone or an X-Box. Well, 20 years ago one of my dreams was fulfilled when I finally got a chance to work on a Cousteau television documentary.

Recently there has been discussion on several SCUBA web sites about the slow and sad demise of Captain Jacques Yves Cousteau's signature boat, the Calypso. It currently sits rotting away in the French port of La Rochelle. This sad story had its beginning when the Calypso was badly damaged in a 1996 collision with a barge in Singapore. The following year, the Captain died and left The Cousteau Society (TCS) with less visionary people at its helm (IMHO). I never sailed aboard the Calypso. However, back in 1986 I was on board its sister ship, Alcyone, as Jean-Michel and its captain guided it into the port of Avalon at the beginning of the fulfillment of one of my life's dreams.

We had crossed the Channel from San Pedro in this avant garde windship to film a two hour episode on the Channel Islands for Cousteau's "Rediscovery of the World" series on Turner Broadcasting. Months earlier I had received a postcard from Dr. Richard Murphy, then TCS's Vice President for Science and Education, former Catalina Conservancy board member, and a friend I'd known since 1974 when I first started working with Jean-Michel. The postcard had a picture of Alcyone on the front and Murph wrote that they'd be in Los Angeles in a few months. He later called from remote Cocos Island off Costa Rica and asked if I'd be willing to work on a film with them. Would I? Hmmm, let me think about this... NOT!

Dick and I met while planning for Jean-Michel's Project Ocean Search (POS) Catalina program in 1974. Initially we were to work on board a huge sailing vessel, the Golden Dawn. That ship was sold, and the POS program didn't start up until 1976 when it was based at my "home" in Toyon Bay, the Catalina Island School. During those early programs I worked with many Cousteau associations including Dick; Pam Stacey (later editor of the The Cousteau Society's Dolphin Log and script writer for many of their documentaries); Dr. Sylvia Earle (who later set a world deep diving record, was chief scientist at NOAA, and is a prominent explorer with the National Geographic Society); Dr. Milton Love (a well known fish biologist and author of the humorous book "Probably More Than You Want to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast"); Henry Genthe; Carol Cable; and others. These early experiences led to decades of involvement with many of these folks. My last day with Jean-Michel on POS Catalina was the day in June of 1979 when his brother Philippe was killed while piloting TCS's PBY seaplane that crashed on a sand bar outside Lisbon, Portugal.

I left Catalina that year for Chicago to work with my father in his mergers and acquisitions business. Before I left, Jean-Michel sent me a letter saying I "would never survive there" because it wasn't where my heart was. He was right, and within two years I began a 13 month exploration, traveling in my truck camper from New England to Florida to British Columbia and south to... Catalina! I still have that letter framed in my house to remind me. I arrived in Los Angeles around Christmas of 1982 and drove over to The Cousteau Society's office... just in time for their Christmas party. While the rest of the revellers enjoyed themselves, Jean-Michel, Dick and I looked at hours of slides from their incredible adventures while filming on the Amazon. I longed to be part of such a filming expedition, and it would be another three years before I was.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Cousteau's incredible windship Alcyone, not the Calypso, was the vessel on which I realized this dream. Although Jean-Michel's father was the co-inventor of the SCUBA regulator, he felt the technology behind this ship was even more significant. Based on a design from 1824, the Cousteau-Pechiney Turbosail that helped power the Alcyone used revolutionary materials developed by the aerospace industry. Essentially the Turbosail was like a vertical airplane wing. It created different airflow patterns and air pressure on each side of it that drove the ship forward just as the lift on an aircraft wing keeps a plane up in the air. Alcyone has two Turbosails, each 10.2 meters (33.5 ft) high and, under optimum conditions, they result in a fuel savings of over 90% making Alcyone very cost efficient. So I wonder why we don't see more vessels of this design given current oil prices?

Alcyone was built in La Rochelle, the same port where Calypso lies today, and set sail in May of 1985 for New York... and ultimately Avalon Bay! She was named after the daughter of the Greek god of the wind. The vessel itself is 31.1 meters (103 ft) long and has a beam of 8.92 m (29 ft). It can sleep a permanent crew of five and a research or film crew on global expeditions. The Turbosails are linked through a computer with the two 156 hp diesel engines. The computer can be programmed to arrive at its destination at a precise time (within reason of course). Once set, the computer engages the Turbosails and/or the engine depending on wind speed and sea conditions. Next week I'll continue this story with more on the actual filming we did on Catalina Island two decades ago.

© 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!

Cousteau's windship Alcyone anchored off Toyon Bay during the filming in 1986.

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2006 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia