In Loving Memory of Denis Martin-Laval

February 19, 2013

In Loving Memory of Denis Martin-Laval:
Ship doctor for Jacques Cousteau and the crew aboard the Calypso.


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I grew up with the crew of the Calypso….my brothers and friends. The loss of Denis came as another shock, days after Jean-Charles Roux left us. For many many years, Denis made sure to protect the health of everyone on aboard ship even all the way to the last breath of my mother when she passed in 1990.

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From an interview I did with Denis back in 2010, in honor of my father's 100th celebration. I asked; "And for you, what is your favorite memory, your favorite moment aboard the Calypso?"

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Denis Martin-Laval replies: "I don't know, it has been a succession of extraordinary moments. Everything was fabulous. But my first dive with a simple mask … (laughs). It was Bébert who took me on my first dive. He told me one day, after about 3 weeks of travel [aboard the Calypso]: "Doctor, Madame Cousteau wants to lend you her SCUBA gear. If you want, I'll take you on your first dive." This gesture really touched me - that someone would think of me. Me, the last wheel of the cart. Someone realized that I had never been diving before and that maybe I really wanted to go. His thoughtfulness astounded me enormously. And so, Bébert took me on my first dive. We readied our equipment. [Denis points to the exact spot on a model of Calypso were he and Bébert made there entrance into the water.] I was there and Bébert was there. He turned and said to me, "Well, you have your equipment, you must manage yourself." I was shy, I vaguely watched how the other divers were putting on their equipment so I didn't really know how to put everything on. I struggled with the weight belt and the mask… Finally, in short, after 10 minutes I was ready. Bébert was finishing his affairs and had his back turned away from me. I said to myself, "Thank goodness he did not watch me get ready." And then we made the dive. Bébert showed me lots of things but I only really saw half. After the dive he asked me, "Did you see the moray eel and the grouper?". I had not seen the moray eel but I had seen the grouper. He said that the moray eel is not like the grouper, the urchin or the coral. The moray eel hides in holes. Then he said to me, "Did you have a good dive?" I said, "Yes, except I struggled with the preparation." He said, "Ah yes, I saw." Then I said to him, "How did you see? You had your back turned to me." And he said, "I had my back turned to you [so not to make you nervous] but I watched your reflection in the porthole window." Aboard Calypso, I found extraordinary men. There was a respect for one another that did not exist on land. When one lives confined on a 100 meter ship for 4 months with 40 people one is obliged to pay attention without judgment. Respect for everyone.

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I am missing you.

Warm Regards,

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Jean-Michel Cousteau

First Photograph: Denis Martin-Laval. Courtesy Alain Foret

Second Photograph: Albert 'Bébert' Falco, Jean-Michel Cousteau and Denis Martin-Laval at a gathering of the "Anciens de la Calypso in 2009. Courtesy Alain Foret

Third Photograph: Jean-Michel Cousteau interviews Denis Martin-Laval in 2010. © Courtesy Rémy Boisset

Fourth Photograph: Jean-Michel, Fabien and Céline prepare for a dive with members of the original Calypso team on the anniversary of Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau's 100th birthday. © Carrie Vonderhaar, Ocean Futures Society

Homepage Photograph: Calypso Courtesy Tim Trabon