Malta Diary: What links “Calypso” to Jacques Cousteau … to Malta and Gozo?
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As a young boy many were the days I spent in front of our television, huddled in an armchair, enveloped in a blanket in the warmth of a paraffin heater, in various parts of England but mainly South London, Cardington in Bedford and Market Rasen in Lincolnshire, as the winter blizzards enveloped the window pane in ice, frost or snow. Yet, my mind was far, far away.
Never, ever did I miss watching a Jacques Cousteau programme as he dove deep in the blue Mediterranean Sea or the Pacific to take my dreams back to my first seven years in Malta, the country of my birth, relishing a feeling of warmth as a blizzard raged at the door.
Cousteau passed away in 1997.
It always raised my curiosity when he mentioned his ship “Calypso” as I had a faint inkling that our sister island of Gozo was often called “Calypso” and wondered whether there was any linking of the two.
Many years later I came to know that “Calypso” was the name given to Gozo in Greek mythology because according to the poetic saga by Homer, the Greek hero Ulysses was shipwrecked in Gozo where the Goddess Calypso lived in a cave and who immediately fell in love with the rugged Ulysses and held him captive against his will for seven years before relenting and releasing him to return to his homeland, his wife and his son.
Then, all fell into place when I came to know that Cousteau had bought his first navigational exploration boat from Malta and appropriately renamed it “Calypso” to commemorate Gozo, the Isle of Calypso, forming a bond between himself and the Maltese Islands!
Originally the ship was used as a Royal Navy minesweeper during World War II. After the war the ship was then decommissioned and purchased by Anglia Shipping Company, of whom one Giuseppe De Micoli, was one of the major shareholders. The ship was converted into a passenger-cargo vessel running transport services from Malta to Syracuse in Sicily. It was renamed the M.V. Lord Strickland in token to a former Maltese-Anglo Prime Minister of Malta before the onset of war.
The breakthrough came in 1950 when the vessel was bought in Malta by the legendary Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau who renamed it “Calypso” and equipped it and it obtained iconic status when he chose it to accompany him during his epic adventures.
Charles De Micoli, son of Giuseppe De Micoli, one of the original purchasers after decommissioning, explained that modifications were made to it so it could be used for passenger-cargo purposes and this included the creation of a deck.
Now, Charles has donated a number of items to Heritage Malta, items related to its days as the M.V. Lord Strickland, and who together with his own son Beppe De Micoli donated the items that will continue to enrich the country’s Maritime Museum.
These included a porthole and the thick rotund glass of another porthole. These are being restored and will soon be on display in the museum located on the Vittoriosa Wharf.
Other items included two marine bilge pumps that were located in the engine room and were used to extract any seawater which made its way through the ship, a fuel pump which was utilised in 45-gallon tanks, together with a brochure and photos of the ship.
The original “Calypso” itself was later scrapped and replaced by more sophisticated ships bearing the same name but at some point it was restored, cleaned and refurbished to take its place in marine history.
“Don’t we appear beautiful to all who can see us”
A sarcastic expression of desperation when everything has gone wrong and we are on the throes of a quandary.