Diving with Cousteau: Weston writer remembers
Updated 7:52 pm, Monday, June 6, 2011
Who wouldn't like to sail with legendary oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau and explore uncharted undersea territories?
Weston resident Richard Hyman said that when he was offered the opportunity to be part of Cousteau's team at the age of 18, shortly after graduating from Weston High School, he leapt at the chance.
Hyman's adventures are chronicled in his recently published book, "Frogman: True Story of My Journeys with Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the Crew of Calypso."
Though Hyman ultimately chose a more traditional career path in business, he fondly recalls joining four expeditions with Cousteau researching stone crabs and lobsters. He dove to the USS Monitor, a Civil War ship that sunk off of Cape Hatteras, N.C., in 1862.
"The water has been calling me my whole life," Hyman explained.
Hyman's father, Frederick Hyman, worked as Cousteau's business partner. Recruited to manage the financial side of Cousteau's enterprise, Frederick Hyman was responsible for consolidating Cousteau's five companies into the Cousteau Group. This organization was headquartered on Bay Street in Westport, above the former Baskin & Robbins Ice Cream Shop.
Shortly after Richard Hyman graduated from high school in 1973, Frederick Hyman invited his son to meet Cousteau during a scheduled business meeting in California. When the iconic explorer -- who revolutionized underwater exploration and launched an environmental awareness crusade -- asked Richard Hyman if he wanted to be part of his expedition that summer, he enthusiastically agreed.
His job, though, didn't entail going out to sea. In fact, he was assigned to drive film equipment through the Canadian wilderness and help build cabins that Cousteau's team would live in as they filmed beavers that winter.
"It was very hard work," Hyman recalled. "I started out at the bottom of the ladder. I later worked as a deckhand and then climbed the ladder and became a diver and then underwater photographer. We pretty much worked around the clock."
Referring to a hand-written journal and audiotapes that he kept during his time with Cousteau, along with photographs, Hyman details a coming-of-age story in "Frogman." He admitted to being embarrassed as he re-read the diary that he kept as a young man.
"I was tempted to edit some of it out because it's embarrassing to see how innocent I was," he said.
His wife, Margaret, who transcribed his notes for the computer, said that she's glad he decided to tell the story. "He's so young and naÃ¯ve when he starts off and then he grows," she said. "You could hear it in his words. It's a beautiful story."
Although Richard Hyman spent the month of August before entering Furman College with the Cousteau team, he arrived at his South Carolina campus on time. He realized, though, that if he wanted to work again with Cousteau, he'd need to get advanced certification in diving. So, once freshman year was completed, Richard Hyman enrolled in an intensive dive course that took ironically in a dilapidated indoor pool in Manhattan.
That winter, during his Thanksgiving break in 1974, Hyman was thrilled to be part of a dive on Florida's Gulf Coast filming stone crabs. During his Christmas break, he was asked to rejoin the team for an expedition partnering with NASA, he said. Though he was doing grunt work as a deck hand, Hyman also received college credit for an independent study project he designs.
Because of this partnership with NASA, Hyman was awarded an internship at NASA in Washington, D.C., that summer.
Hyman's last expedition with Cousteau was diving off of Cape Hatteras and exploring the USS Monitor, a sunken ship from the Civil War. One of the highlights of this trip was a visit from singer and songwriter John Denver, a longtime Cousteau fan. Hyman recounts diving, dining and singing with recording artist.
Hyman said that the dives were challenging.
"We were diving 230 feet deep using only regular compressed air, which was definitely pushing the envelope," he said.
Navigating through treacherous waters and near-misses with pirates and drug smugglers, Richard Hyman was ready to leave Cousteau's adventures behind and live a more conventional lifestyle with his wife and two children in Weston.
Hyman wanted to leave an account for his family of his journeys by writing the book, which was in the making for 10 years
"It's a labor of love," he said.
Published by CreateSpace, a company owned by Amazon, "Frogman" is available online. "I believe in Cousteau's underlying message that we need to care for our environment and protect our oceans," Hyman said. "I was always a great admirer of Captain Cousteau and I wanted to pay homage to him through this book."
Richard Hyman will speak and host a book signing 7 p.m. Friday, June 10, at Weston Public Library, 56 Norfield Road, Weston. For information, call the Weston Public Library at 203-222-2665.