NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
22 Mar 1997
Stereo=1; Dual-Channel Mono
Luis Marden on Jacques Cousteau
National Geographic Century
00:02:10 When in 1961, Jacques Cousteau received the gold medal of the national Geographic Society from the hands of President John F. Kennedy it bore an inscription I wrote. "To earth bound man he gave the key to the solid world." Knowledge of a strange and wonderful world covering nearly three-fourths of our plant increased exponentially in 1943 with the appearance of Cousteau's aqualung the simple but indispensable instrument that allows man to take his breath with him beneath the waves. The poet Byron wrote " Man marks the earth with ruin, his control stops at the shore." But man has now extended his unbridled capacity for ruin to the sea itself. Having opened the door to the undersea world, Cousteau, the original Homoaquaticus, for more than half a century eloquently and tirelessly portrayed, described and defended the beauty, richness and fertility of that silent world for which he had become the voice.
It should have been in the past, you want it in the past?
All right do just that last sentence again.
00:03:25 Having opened the door to the undersea world, Cousteau, the original Homoaquaticus, for more than half a century eloquently and tirelessly portrayed described and defended the beauty , richness and fragility of that silent world for which he became the voice.
Very good. When did you first go with him? 00:04:00
00:04:04 In preparing a piece about him, I thought that its not just that he came up with the aqualung but that he was a great popularizer as well. 00:04:46
00:04:48 I first sailed with Jacques Cousteau on the Calypso in 1955. We spent 4 mos. in the Indian ocean and the Red Sea. There were 25 people as I recall on board, 24 men and 1 woman, Madame Cousteau, Simone Cousteau. As you probably know, if you've ever sailed on a small vessel you get pretty much tired of seeing each other, the same people. We were four months at sea, touched a shore very little, merely to get diesel and water and I apologize for this voice, caused by tree pollen allergy. During those four months when we did touch occasionally, Madagascar (?), Cousteau was often invited to speak. So several times I heard him speak in French, (?) and English, extemporaneously, no notes and each time, I had been his ship mate for 4 months, I sat on the edge of the seat. His eloquence was astounding in both languages and his dedication to the sea and its causes, equally impressive. The great thing was that he not only made it possible for his crew and the great public to go down in the sea but he was able to transmit and pass on the sensations and the language that these expeditions and these excursions beneath the waves evoked. He was more eloquent and most dedicated to the cause of saving the earth in general and the sea in particular which encompassed 71 percent of the Earth's surface. And by the way, its always been a matter of remarkable, a remarkable matter to me that the human body's liquids percentages is 71 percent, exactly that of the planets I don't know if it's a coincidence or perhaps its Nature's plan.
00:07:10 Did he ever tell you how he figured out the aqualung? 00:07:19
00:07:20 No, Jacques Cousteau never discussed the origin of the aqualung with me. Though I asked him one or two questions at a time. (Coughing) But he's put on record several places the facts. People, divers had wanted in those days, to hunt fish, to shoot fish had wanted to take air down with them so that they could stay underwater, almost from the beginning of their efforts. You could take a bottle of compressed air with a mouthpiece, open the valve when you were underwater and breathe but that meant continuous flow. Air flowed out of the cylinder continuously, which meant that it was almost done up in about 10 minutes maximum. The great thing about the aqualung is the so called regulator, diaphragm which gave you air on demand, it's called a demand valve, you got air only as your body was breathing in. As you breathed out the air would shut off, just as you breathe normally sitting here and that extended the life of the time underwater a great extent. Cousteau had the concept of something like this and he went to --- a company in Paris that controlled all the compressed gases and incidentally one of the world's biggest cartels, you never hear about it, you hear about the ¿ Trust you hear about drugs but the biggest cartels to me at any rate is the compressed gases. Two or three entity control them, all around the world. But, be that as it may. He went to --- and described to them what he was after. Something that would give air on demand and not other times, just when you asked it. Also, it was controlled by a diaphragm open to the pressure of the sea. So as you went to deeper and the pressure increased it would give you air at greater pressure thus you were pressurized inside and out. A very graphic example of that happened at the southern entrance of the Suez canal when we dived at a ship called the Thistle Gong. At the anchorage Southern End of the Suez Canal, several ships had been anchored during WWII when a German aircraft flying at the limit of it's range from Crete flew over and bombed the ship in question. It went down. A few people were burned and a few lost. It was a freighter ship, a commercial ship but it was armed as most of the wartime ones were. The deck load was railway cars. Some of them were tankers such as oil tankers, tank cars, cylinders Then ship was at 103 ft. lying in two pieces on its side. As you swam over the railway cars, full sized railway cars, steel tanks, the tanks were crushed like an aluminum beer can. Here we were naked so to speak swimming without any discomfort. We were pressurized, the tanks were not, they had atmospheric air at the surface when the sank, 103 roughly 3 atmospheres more crushed them. Very graphic thing. So, returning to Cousteau, he went to,-- told them what he was looking for and an engineer Emile¿said "You mean like this?" Picked a little round thing off the shelf. In two WW's when there was a serious shortage of fuel for motor cars the French had burned charcoal in a device called the ---. It looked like a little vertical steam engine attached to the back of a car. The gas from the charcoal ran the motorcars, taxis and so on. I've even seen those in Tokyo. --- and the engineer Emile -- at ¿ had developed this valve to give gas on demand as the engine wanted it so they transformed it so to speak, they adapted it for air and human breathing and that was the genesis of it so it was really a co-invention. Cousteau had the concept and went to the liquid air corporation looking for it.
00:12:02 (asides and conversation) Do you know what he regarded as his greatest accomplishment? 00:12:31
No, I do not. I never asked him that. I think if you were to ask him that. If one had asked him that, he might have said his work in general, I don't know I'm summizing, I never asked him.
00:12:51 And in his courses and in your experiences, did he have a favorite spot to dive.
00:13:12 He never mentioned that to me. I think the ocean, the world ocean, was his home. The Spaniard, you know, in the time of Columbus, called it El Mar del Ferno, the Ocean Sea. Really would say he embraces all of it.
00:13:35 We know him as a great explorer and inventor and documentarian, what were his qualities of friendship?
00:13:51 I had a deep abiding friendship for him. I always took pleasure in his company. He had the most original mind I think I've ever encountered. He made commonplace things turn over and he saw them in a new light He brought up new concepts that seemed strange to you but when you heard them from his lips your reaction was "But of course, naturally, that's the way it is!" I remember once that a young man had come into a quite a bit of money and had bought or had built a very large schooner 120 ft.. He was going to circumnavigate the Earth and he wanted to do something good for science so he had purposed to taking aboard scientists at various places and he was in Washington at the time that Cousteau was here at the Jefferson Hotel, which we made have heard of lately. We all me there and were talking over his thing and the question was, what route should this young man take around the world. Some said, "Well, you probably don't want to go around the Horn, go through the Panama Canal and then go to the Galapagos to catch the Trades then run for the Tahiti, the usual route going around the world." Other said " No, perhaps you could go by way of Japan." Cousteau had a brooding face, and that hawk-like visage and beak nose truly aquiline, brooding deep-set eyes, sucking on his pipe saying nothing. And there was a globe in the room, and Earth globe when the silence fell, he took the pipe out of his mouth with the stem and went round the Earth through the North Pole, through the South Pole and said, "Why don't you do it this way?" Of course that couldn't be done by sailing only later it was done, one of the - I believe. But, he wasn't doing it entirely unjust. His idea was "Why are you talking about the old route, why don't you do this?" And it wasn't flippancy, but he had, his approach was always original and when we were looking at one of the aqualungs, French built at the time, the diaphragm, the regulator, the demand valve and it was fastened in two halves like a tobacco tin, with clips and you needed a special pair of pliers to squeeze the clips together and I said, "Why do you use these clips. You need a special tool, why not fasten them another way?" And he said, "You know I think inventions and new devices should be invented by the French and built by the Germans."
AC 00:16:42 Thank you.