National Geographic : 1954 Jul
To the Depths of the Sea by Bathyscaphe In the French Navy's Balloon of the Deep, Marine Explorers Enter a "Puree" of Living Creatures and Sight Strange White-eyed Sharks in the Eternal Night of 4,000 Feet BY CAPT. JACQUES-YVES COUSTEAU WHAT is it like to go down to the dark floor of the sea in that wonderful new dirigible of the depths, the bathy scaphe? One day in December, 1953, I found out, descending 4,000 feet into the Mediter ranean. The night before, I had been in Paris, await ing a signal. Finally it came: "Weather fa vorable." Catching the Blue Train, I sped toward Toulon and the naval dockyard. Dawn was breaking when I arrived, and I hurried to the slip where this 53 -foot deep-diving submarine, smallest operational unit of the French Navy, was usually berthed, a midget almost lost among the hulking aircraft car riers and tall warships. No Cables Tie This Sub to Surface This time, however, the slip was empty. The bathyscaphe had already put to sea, un der tow. Boarding a speedboat, I raced after her through the crowded harbor and out into the Mediterranean. A few miles offshore we caught up with the Elie-Monnier, the naval research ship acting as a tug, and transferred to her bridge. Aboard I found my two friends, the now famous deep-diving team: Lt. Comdr. Georges Houot, tall and lean, with a shy grin, and boyish-appearing Lt. Pierre Henri Willm, of the Navy Engineers. We talked animatedly of the day's objective-the Toulon canyon, an undersea gorge about six miles from the harbor-and then I strolled aft to the taffrail and looked back at the bathyscaphe, bobbing and dancing in our wake. Both pride and ex citement welled up in me. For this small craft held the promise of an opportunity for which I had worked and waited almost 10 years. Like the Aqualung (which with Emile Gagnan I had developed in 1943), the bathy scaphe is an independent diving apparatus without lines to the surface.* Compartments holding some 20,000 gallons of light gasoline buoy her up, as hydrogen or helium buoys a balloon. Intimate with the sea, she carries one down from the Continental Shelf, habitat of the Aqualunger, to the ocean deeps. (Her very name, in fact, comes from the Greek words bathy for "deep" and scaphe for "boat.") Possessed of such a ship, man may now de scend far into the sea and gaze from a win dow at some of the last mysteries of our globe. Why speculate upon future journeys to other worlds while 70 percent of our own planet re mains unknown to us? In 1948 I had taken part in tests of the original "deep-boat"-F.N.R.S. 2-with the men most responsible for her: Professors Au guste Piccard and Max Cosyns, the latter of the University of Brussels. The dives of this model off French West Africa had proved the principle sound. To our regret, however, the prototype was unseaworthy. Though she had serenely withstood enormous pressures down below, she was wrecked on the surface in a mild Atlantic swell. We then campaigned for a new bathyscaphe. One of the most ardent spirits in this cause was the French oceanographer, the late Dr. Claude Francis-Boeuf. As before, too, we had the advice of Professors Piccard and Cosyns and the financial assistance of the Belgian National Scientific Research Fund. Indeed, it was the initials of this progressive Govern ment trust, Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique, which were to give F.N.R.S. 3 her name. The new plans, however, were drawn by the French naval architect, Lt. Comdr. Andre Marie Joseph Gempp, of the Engineers, with Piccard, Cosyns, and myself as technical ad visors. Diver Fr6deric Dumas contributed several vital ideas for the design. Lieutenant Gempp's work was ended ab ruptly by combat orders sending him to Indo china. He was succeeded by Lieutenant Willm, who with Houot completed the sub marine. During construction, Professor Pic *The story of the Aqualung, and of a remarkable archeological purpose to which it was put, has been vividly told in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE in "Fish Men Discover a 2,200-year-old Greek Ship," January, 1954, and "Fish Men Explore a New World Undersea," October, 1952, both by Capt. Jacques Yves Cousteau, leader of the National Geographic Society-Calypso Oceanographic Expeditions.