WESTPORT, Conn. — It was the summer of 1973 and while most of his classmates were preparing to head off to college, Richard Hyman was embarking on the adventure of a lifetime.
The Weston 18-year-old was given the opportunity to be a supply truck driver for an expedition led by legendary French explorer/filmmaker Jacques Cousteau in Canada. The next thing he knew, Hyman found himself driving from Los Angeles to the wilds of Saskatchewan, then working with Cree builders to create a cabin for Cousteau’s crew to live in while they documented a beaver colony through the frigid winter.
Hyman shared his tale, along with many others from his travels with Cousteau’s diving team, with an audience at Westport Public Library on Monday. The Weston resident also signed copies of his first book, “Frogmen: The True Story of My Journeys With Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the Crew of the Calypso,” for many of the 60 gathered.
Hyman said he spent about 10 years researching and writing his book because he was inspired by Cousteau’s dedication to the world around him, particularly the oceans.
“We’re not doing a very good job of protecting the ocean,” said the writer, who has enjoyed a career in telecommunications and technology management. “I’m doing my little tiny part to keep his legacy alive and preserve his messages.”
After the Canada trip, Hyman headed on to college, graduating from Furman University. But he was lucky enough to have three more trips on the Calypso, in large part because his father was CEO of The Cousteau Society, which was based in Westport for a time.
After the first excursion, Hyman earned his certification as a diver so he could move up the ranks in the crew of about 27 on the 139-foot-long Calypso, a World War II minesweeper that was a mere 25 feet wide.
While Cousteau’s films made him a household name, the crew rarely had the most modern, safest equipment, Hyman said.
“We didn’t use the latest equipment. We were rather reckless,” he said with a laugh. “But there was so much knowledge. I guess it was an informed recklessness.”
Hyman traveled to Mexico to study spiny lobsters and to Belize, where the crew documented grouper along the second largest barrier reef in the world. That trip included a special visit from John Denver, who dove with the crew and headlined a casual two-hour concert aboard the boat.
Denver later recorded his song “Calypso” in memory of the journey and donated all royalties to the Cousteau Society.
In 1979, Hyman made his last trip with Cousteau, this time to visit shipwrecks in the Atlantic Ocean, including the Civil War-era USS Monitor.
Cousteau’s beloved Calypso sank in 1996, and Cousteau died just a year later at 87. Though there are efforts afoot to rebuild the boat, Hyman has his doubts.
“In my opinion, Calypso is gone,” he said.
The passing of both boat and captain — along with many of the regular crew — is another reason Hyman decided to tell the story of these high-seas adventurers.
“There aren’t too many people left who can tell it,” he said.