By Larry Clinton
The graceful schooner Zaca is part of Sausalito’s history in more ways than one. As Historical Society member Annie Sutter has written, the 127-foot yacht was built at the Nunes Bros. Boatyard in Old Town in 1929. She was commissioned by the original owner, Templeton Crocker, one of the heirs to the Crocker fortune.
Annie has reported, “The Nunes yard, located on what is today known as the Valley Street beach, won the job by submitting a low bid of $350,000, thus bringing to Sausalito a welcome infusion of money and jobs. The Depression was apparently no deterrent for Crocker, who commanded great wealth throughout his life. In the midst of hard times, a luxurious pleasure ship rose from the shores of Shelter Cove with money no object.”
With a crew of 18 including a doctor, photographer and Crocker’s valet, Zaca, started off on a round the world cruise shortly after the launching, visiting the Marquesas, Tonga, Java, Sumatra, India, Europe and the Caribbean. “The ship returned to San Francisco after exactly one year as scheduled and they sailed her past the cove to salute her builders,” Annie reports
But during WWII, The Navy took Zaca for a coastal patrol boat, and painted the teak, hull and interior battleship gray.
Hollywood discovered the Zaca in 1945, when dashing film star Errol Flynn bought her, and, according to Annie, “it’s been said that he could never erase all the gray. He spent $50,000 on new furnishings however, and decorated her all in white, with red rugs and a white ermine bedspread.”
Flynn met Orson Welles in Acapulco while Welles was scouting locations for his 1948 film noir “Lady from Shanghai.” According to the website reelsf.com, “Welles contracted to use the Zaca for the two- month movie shoot. Flynn captained the yacht himself -- one can only imagine what life aboard must have been like with these two renowned high-living, hell-raising, larger-than-life characters.”
Another Historical Society member, Brad Hathaway, has reported that “Welles was director, producer, screenwriter and star of the film. He had visited Sausalito in the past and was impressed enough that when he needed a scene in the San Francisco Bay area, he penned in our town. His co-star was his real-life wife, Rita Hayworth.”
Hathaway noted: “Most local residents had to content themselves with standing behind police and fire lines set up a block from the action and hope for a brief look at the Hollywood stars. Others were lucky enough to land jobs as extras in the movie. Among them were Sausalito fireman ‘Swede’ Pedersen and Sausalito News reporter Joanne Nichols who recorded the experience in the December 5, 1946 issue of the paper.
“Rain and foggy weather then settled on Sausalito – this was December, after all.
“Filming in Sausalito didn't resume until Friday, December 6 when it was Rita Hayworth's turn to attract the most attention. It took most of the morning to get the few seconds of screen time which showed Hayworth being ferried to shore in a high speed Higgins boat from a yacht anchored off shore.”
The yacht used for this scene was the White Cloud, a Berkeley-based schooner that was standing in for the more famous Zaca, which had been used in earlier scenes.
Flynn later moved Zaca to the French Riviera. When he died in 1959, according to Annie, “she slowly deteriorated as debtors, heirs and boatyards argued about her fate. Slowly she became a rotting hulk in the harbor of Villefranche, mastless, the interior gutted, the hull rotten and kept afloat by pumps.
“Salvation arrived in 1991 when Roberto Memmo, sailor, yachtsman, and businessman from Monaco who was experienced in expansive and expensive restorations, found Zaca.”
According to sailing magazine Latitude 38. “Memmo brought 50 of the best shipwrights and craftsmen to Brest, France, for a spectacular restoration that lasted 18 months. By the time the restoration was completed in the late ’90s, (it) was one of the most spectacular yachts in the Mediterranean.”
The Zaca and the Nunes Brothers are featured in a virtual exhibit entitled “Sausalito Boatyards” which can be viewed on the Historical Society website: http://www.sausalitohistoricalsociety.com.