Provence Un­der­sea

Div­ing into Sa­nary-sur-Mer re­veals a world of ma­rine mar­vels.

Seabourn Club Herald - - FEATURES - BY LISA GER­ARD-SHARP

Set be­tween Toulon and Ban­dol, the town of Sa­nary-sur-Mer be­gan as a fish­ing port clus­tered around a Ro­manesque watch­tower. Now a pop­u­lar sum­mer hol­i­day spot, it re­mains a pas­tel-painted vil­lage with pointed wooden fish­ing boats bob­bing by the quay­side. The morn­ing mar­ket at the port is a Proven­cal paint­ing, piled high with apri­cots, red pep­pers, gar­lic and spicy olives. The glis­ten­ing sar­dines and pur­ple sea urchins sug­gest that the tra­di­tional fish­ing boats still serve a pur­pose, an im­pres­sion con­firmed by the seafood restau­rants awash with bouil­l­abaisse. By now, you’ll have suc­cumbed to this clas­sic fish stew or be sip­ping a chilled glass of rosé un­der the palms. But Sa­nary is not just Provence on a plate.

In­stead, Sa­nary’s history is writ­ten on wa­ter: Its trea­sures lie out in the bay, from an­cient wrecks to leg­endary dives made by Jac­ques Cousteau and his bud­dies. If Sa­nary is con­sid­ered the birth­place of mod­ern scuba div­ing, it is largely thanks to the ex­ploits of three pi­o­neer­ing pals who reached record depths in their home wa­ters.

THREE MUS­KE­TEERS OF THE SEA

In 1937, Philippe Tail­liez, free diver and naval swim­ming cham­pion, first tracked tal­ented spearfish­er­man Frédéric Du­mas in the pris­tine wa­ters around the Em­biez is­lands. Tail­liez then in­tro­duced Du­mas to Cousteau, a fel­low naval of­fi­cer on the de­stroyer Con­dorcet in Toulon, and a firm friend­ship that would change the world of div­ing for­ever was born.

With­out Cousteau’s tal­ent for show­man­ship, the trio would have made less of a splash. This year marks the

60th an­niver­sary of The Si­lent World, the mag­i­cal un­der­wa­ter ex­plo­ration Cousteau made with di­rec­tor Louis Malle that be­came the first doc­u­men­tary to win the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val. Shot aboard Cousteau’s ves­sel, Ca­lypso, it was a

Now a pop­u­lar sum­mer hol­i­day spot, it re­mains a pas­tel-painted vil­lage with pointed wooden fish­ing boats bob­bing by the quay­side.

mile­stone in un­der­wa­ter cin­e­matog­ra­phy — the first ma­jor pre­sen­ta­tion of the ocean depths in full Tech­ni­color.

In­ter­na­tion­ally, Cousteau’s name crops up ev­ery­where. He is fa­mil­iar as a

French naval of­fi­cer, war hero, pi­o­neer­ing oceanog­ra­pher, ex­plorer, con­ser­va­tion­ist, film­maker, sci­en­tist, show­man, au­thor and un­der­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­pher. Tail­liez brought div­ing skills, in­tegrity and a con­ser­va­tion­ist spirit to the part­ner­ship. Yet Sa­nary gen­tly tips the bal­ance in fa­vor of lo­cal boy, Frédéric Du­mas. Tail­liez teased his dive buddy as “a san­dal-wear­ing hip­pie be­fore his time” but also revered him: “Du­mas was the wa­ter god, he did what none of us could do — he played with it.”

The three divers, dubbed the three mousque­mers (mus­ke­teers of the sea), be­came the fa­thers of mod­ern deepsea div­ing.

CAP­TURED IN TIME

The trio’s achieve­ments are com­mem­o­rated in Sa­nary’s Frédéric Du­mas Div­ing Mu­seum. It’s a big­hearted, low-tech mu­seum, a cabi­net of cu­riosi­ties run by ded­i­cated am­a­teurs.

Set in a me­dieval tower, the un­der­wa­ter ar­chae­ol­ogy sec­tion is a clear trib­ute to Du­mas’ pas­sion for scout­ing wrecks, per­haps stirred by mem­o­ries of his early ex­plo­rations off Sa­nary’s Por­tis­sol Beach in 1938. The Mediter­ranean seabed is so rich in An­cient Greek and Ro­man re­mains that am­phorae — an­cient clay urns — con­tinue to be handed in to the mu­seum by divers.

More fas­ci­nat­ing is the scuba sec­tion, brought to life by lo­cal guides. The aqualung, Cousteau’s great­est in­ven­tion, is there, as is Du­mas’ div­ing mask, a clunky but func­tional de­vice shaped out of tire in­ner tubes in 1930. A copy of an early 18th-cen­tury div­ing suit, more like a suit of ar­mor, is a re­minder of how far div­ing has come. The slightly hap­haz­ard dis­plays are in keep­ing with the spirit of ca­ma­raderie and im­pro­vi­sa­tion that char­ac­ter­ized the ex­ploits of “the mus­ke­teers.”

The mu­seum sin­gles out sig­nif­i­cant books and un­der­wa­ter doc­u­men­taries as well. Pro­duced in 1943, 18 Me­tres Deep was France’s first un­der­wa­ter film, in­spired by the trusty team’s dives off Sa­nary with­out breath­ing ap­pa­ra­tus. A long-run­ning se­ries, The Un­der­sea World of Jac­ques Cousteau, set the bench­mark for ma­rine doc­u­men­taries.

Also in 1943, the trio made Ship­wrecks, a doc­u­men­tary that fea­tured two of the ear­li­est aqualung pro­to­types, made to their spec­i­fi­ca­tions. Du­mas starred, wear­ing an aqualung, the first diver to go be­low 200 feet in the de­vice. Given war­time short­ages, dur­ing the shoot Cousteau re­sorted to mul­ti­ple still­cam­era film reels in­tended for a child's

cam­era, and linked them to make long reels. Ship­wrecks so im­pressed Ad­mi­ral Le­mon­nier that he en­trusted the team with set­ting up a naval un­der­wa­ter re­search group. Based in Toulon, this soon en­com­passed mis­sions such as mine clearance and naval ex­plo­ration. Cousteau still found time to fol­low his own sci­en­tific in­ter­ests. He de­duced sea crea­tures’ nat­u­ral sonar by notic­ing how por­poises track­ing his re­search ves­sel, Elie Mon­nier, changed course to find the op­ti­mal path through the Straits of Gi­bral­tar.

Above all, the mu­seum prompts re­flec­tion on ma­rine con­ser­va­tion, the legacy of these pi­o­neer­ing oceanog­ra­phers. As a keen en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist, Tail­liez

In 1937, Philippe Tail­liez, free diver and naval swim­ming cham­pion, first tracked tal­ented spearfish­er­man Frédéric Du­mas in the pris­tine wa­ters around the Em­biez is­lands. Tail­liez then in­tro­duced Du­mas to Cousteau, a fel­low naval of­fi­cer on the de­stroyer Con­dorcet in Toulon, and a firm friend­ship that would change the world of div­ing for­ever was born.

was a found­ing mem­ber of the Port-Cros ma­rine park on the Iles d’Or east of Sa­nary. His stance in­spired Cousteau to also take up arms as an ecow­ar­rior. In 1960, Cousteau and fel­low oceanog­ra­phers led a suc­cess­ful cam­paign to pre­vent the dump­ing of nu­clear waste in the French Mediter­ranean. Partly thanks to these pi­o­neers, the div­ing here re­mains de­light­ful, given the com­bi­na­tion of un­spoiled coast­line, un­der­wa­ter cliffs, spooky wrecks and re­li­able scuba clubs. As for boat trips, head to the Em­biez archipelago or to the calan­ques, the fjord-like creeks that score the coast­line to­wards Cas­sis.

Set in Ban­dol wine coun­try, Sa­nary still serves up the south­ern life­style in a glass. Touched by that mag­i­cal ma­rine air, Ban­dol rosé is as sub­tle and com­plex as Sa­nary it­self. But, in the end, terra firma is trounced by the sea. In Sa­nary, one of the sun­ni­est spots in France, what counts are the cool depths, not the laid­back south­ern life­style. Cousteau would toast to that.

Sa­nary-sur-Mer

Bouil­l­abaisse

Philippe Tail­liez Jac­ques Cousteau Frédéric Du­mas

Wrecks re­main prime dive spots in Provence.

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