Cappello Bruno

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My friend Michel told me that he was going to try out as a Cousteau team diver. I told him if you can do it, so can I. Dan Phan and I were later welcomed as the newest divers on the team.

My first mission for the Cousteau team was aboard the Calypso and we went to film the USS Monitor. I recall meeting Harold Edgerton – or "Papa Flash" as Jacques Cousteau called him. 

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Albert Falco, Jacques Cousteau and I were going over some pre-dive items, just the three of us.

Falco asked if I had a reliable dive watch. I was a caught a bit off-guard, not sure what to say. Then Mr. Falco uttered a phrase I have always remembered:

“A decent man must have a decent watch.”

And then it happened - Jacques Cousteau gave his watch to ME! And from that moment on I truly felt as though I were a part of the Cousteau team!

It turned out to be a night dive by the time we got there. We all grouped at the surface and held on to each others tanks. It was like a human grape vine going down to the Monitor. I saw the biggest shark that I've ever seen that day.

I was relieved to know that I was not the only one who saw the shark, Marc and Raymond saw it as well. Maybe the watch was an omen. This proved to be a very memorable dive as we continued to investigate the USS Monitor, and the rest, as they say – is history!

My duties aboard The Calypso were varied and numerous. Perhaps my favorite chore was loading the film into the cameras as the film cabin was the only place on The Calypso that was air-conditioned! In addition to this I filled the divers’ tanks before the dives. During the dives I held the lights for the cameramen - usually either Bernard or Raymond. I helped Bob as often as possible with the helicopter maintenance. I was usually in the water to help place "Denise" (the SP350) into and out of the water, as well as to follow it around during its dive as best I could using the transponder. I never got to dive with the SP350. This was one of my greatest regrets while working for the Cousteau team.

I seemed to find myself more often than not on watch duty. This was when I really got to know the Commandant, Monsieur Cousteau. For some reason I was on watch with him more than I was with any of the other confirmed navigators! I was always afraid to disturb his sleep, but I often did need to go and get him. I know it sounds dumb now, but this was Jacques Cousteau after all, and I was anxious to prove myself!

Of course he usually took his time and arrived a few moments later than I did when we were on watch, and as a result these were some of the longest "short" moments of my life! I never really knew if JYC simply trusted me alone with the ship as Navigator, or if I simply was not knocking loud enough to wake him! Looking back, I suspect that this was his way of saying, "Look stupid, if you're going to wake me up, then just do it and make more noise next time!" The time we spent together while on watch were filled with what you might expect - Atlantis, mixed gas diving physiology, satellite navigation and perhaps what fascinated me the most of all, the Tibetan book of the dead and the life of the spirit. I was always eager to share thoughts on this, and it was fascinating to hear his idea of the meaning of life.

Jacques Cousteau was, in my opinion, a perfectionist. He was also very demanding to work for, but never asked for, or expected anything more than he was ready to give himself. The gift of his personal watch truly underscored this spirit of commitment and camaraderie to me, and likewise in other ways to everyone else he and the Calypso touched.

Despite the demands, (or maybe because of them) working for him was always a pleasure. One day in Canada we were passing some whales and everyone was on the deck looking for vents. We drew closer to the whales and he said, "Watch... the mother will show her calf how to jump out of the water soon." I thought to myself, ‘You may know a lot about the water but that kind of prediction is impossible!’ Sure enough, about two minutes later, out of the water came the big whale followed by the small whale. I never again questioned what he said.

As told by Bruno Cappello


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