The Haunted Yacht of Villefranche
As Halloween is fast approaching, FR2DAY has dug through the haunted past of the French Riviera. You don't have to necessarily believe in spirits to appreciate a good ghost story. But this one has all the classic elements: a legendary character, a ruined old vessel, and a mysterious flow of events that cannot be explained.
The actor Errol Flynn was known to film fans everywhere as a swashbuckling hero. He was a lady's and a man's man who left many broken hearts in a trail behind him. Throughout his life he experienced health, financial and personal problems. Flynn was married three times and has numerous affairs. But he also loved boats and sailing. He bought two yachts - the first was a 44-foot, 50-year-old harbour yacht called the Sirocco.
The second boat, the Zaca, was a 118-foot gaff-rigged schooner built practically on the eve of the Great Depression for a San Francisco socialite and railroad heir Templeton Crocker. He wanted the Zaca to be one of the most luxurious boats ever built, so he commissioned designer Garland Rotch to bring this dream to reality. During WWII, in 1941, the U.S. Navy requisitioned every seaworthy private yacht over 70-feet long and this included the Zaca.
The ship was painted battleship grey, renamed the IX-73 and sent out on patrol about 500 miles off the coast of California. In 1945, the Zaca was decommissioned and put on the auction block, then purchased by speculator, Joe Rosenburg. Enter Errol Flynn.
Flynn purchased the Zaca, painted her completely white and refurbished her. He sailed her many times, including a disastrous trip to Acapulco and a sail to Jamaica, which he considered his homeport. While Flynn's personal and professional life went from bad to worse, he decided to sell the Zaca. He had sailed her to Spain, but sadly died died of a heart attack on a trip to Vancouver, Canada, before he got the chance to find a home for her. What followed was a long, drawn-out battle over Flynn's estate. His lawyers finally reached an agreement to consign the boat to English millionaire Freddie Tinsley, who swore he would sell her in France.
Once the Zaca made the voyage to the French Riviera, her new owner stripped her of everything he could and then abandoned her in a boatyard in Villefranche owned by Bernard Voisin. One summer evening, a fisherman reported hearing the sounds of music, the tinkling of women's laughter, and the silhouettes of party-goers dancing past the windows. These were the sights and sounds of one of Flynn's infamous parties. But the man had been dead for many years - and the boat wasn't even hooked up to electricity.
Over the next 20 years, many people reported seeing Flynn's ghost walking the decks of the ship, usually around twilight. Voisin eventually claimed ownership of the Zaca for nonpayment of rent and he decided to refurbish her. Because he had heard the ghost stories, Voisin decided to perform an exorcism first. Instead of having the exorcism aboard the decrepit boat, a model of the Zaca was taken to a church in Monte Carlo in 1979. People who had claimed to see Flynn's ghost came along to participate. According to witnesses, the exorcism was performed simultaneously by a Catholic priest and an Anglican Arch-deacon. Everyone present believed the ceremony to be successful.
In 1987, an English electronics mogul named Phillip Coussins purchased Voisin's entire boatyard just to get his hands on the famed Zaca. Three years later, the sadly neglected yacht was sold to Italian businessman Roberto Memmo. The Zaca was sent to the boatyards of Toulon, where she was extensively overhauled, rebuilt and outfitted. She made her grand entrance at the Monaco classic regatta in 1993. The Zaca has returned to her former glory, playing hostess to celebrities, politicians, writers and movie stars. During the summer, she can be seen participating in some of the Mediterranean's most prestigious regattas, and in the winter, she can be found in Monte-Carlo's Port de Fontvielle.
And as for Errol Flynn, it looks like the Zaca has finally given up the ghost.