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Log of the Molly Brown

Richard Zantzinger
Westover Publishing Company
Richmond, VA 1973

First there was Joshua Slocum - the New England ship captain, weathered and beaten by a lifetime on the sea, cast up on the shore, no prospects, not much hope. A friend gave him a derelict boat, which he rebuilt over the course of a year at the cost of 550 dollars, in hopes of doing some commercial fishing to keep body and soul together. A couple of years later he was the world-reknown circumnavigator, published author and celebrity.

Later we find aging Francis Chichester, frustrated and dissatisfied, looking for one more adventure to leave his mark. A grueling circumnavigation aboard a hardly controllable thoroughbred of a boat left him the toast of England, and no longer Francis - now he was Sir Francis.

And then there was Richard Zantzinger.

A circumnavigation spawned in adversity ended with the tax collector waiting to confiscate his boat.

But he had a heck of a party on the way.

The Vietnam War was still in full bloom in 1969 but the overheated economy was starting to deflate like a pin-pricked balloon. Richard Zantzinger's concrete business followed suit, along with his marriage. A close friend's wife suggested he get a job at a gas station. Then his girlfriend jokingly suggested that a boat trip around the world was in order. To Zantzinger, it sounded perfectly reasonable.

With the remnants of his bank account, and quite possibly the quarters he found in his couch, he bought and outfitted a 35 foot sloop and named her Molly Brown, after the "unsinkable" Titanic survivor.

Zantzinger set off from his home port of Annapolis, bound for Key West. For company, he had his seven year old daughter Kyle (he had managed to stay on good terms with his ex-wife, despite the divorce and the girlfriend), a friend's son, his girlfriend's brother (but not his girlfriend), and his girlfriend's brother's college buddy. The trip outside to St. Augustine was tumultuous. They decided to continue by way of the ICW.

After two weeks of partying in Key West, Zantzinger put his tearful daughter on the plane home and pounded down a double gin on the rocks. Parting from his daughter is when, "For the first time since this wild-eyed project began, I began to have a few second thoughts."

From this point, crewing arrangements get hard to follow, but it appears that the captain and a crew of four headed south. A stop at Georgetown for drinking, stormy Caribbean weather, and then they put in pleasant days in Panama, as most of the guys left and girlfriend Connie flew down for a visit.

Zantzinger and his party animal friend John departed Panama for the Galapagos Islands. John had no interest in anything but fishing, and could hardly be roused to aid in sailing the boat.

They had a fantastic time in the Galapagos, but eventually the island community got a bit claustrophobic. They cast off for the south Pacific with a third crew member, a young French woman, Maryrose, who had run away from home at 17 and spent the ensuing years bumming around from one remote location to another. She was an immaculate boat-keeper and gourmet cook, but she had a fiery temper that tended to flair up in wild confrontations with customs and immigration authorities.

Fisherman John bailed in Tahiti and the captain was not sad to see him go. Zantzinger and Maryrose continued on, having a fine time in Tahiti and Australia, taking on and losing crew as they went, and finally consumating their relationship in a lagoon in Bali. Unfortunately, they failed to notice that they had drifted away from the boat, and in Zantinger's ennervated state he almost got swept out to sea. Later, at a rural cockfight, Maryrose's temper got them in trouble with the locals, and they had to beat a hasty retreat on a rented motorbike under a hail of stones.

They left Bali with cash resources of one dollar and scanty supplies, and were reduced to a diet of rice and canned beets before they made landfall in Mauritius. There, Zantzinger spoke to his brother by phone, and received the bad news that his accountant back home had disappeared with all his business records and the IRS was expecting action to be taken on a matter of delinquent tax deposits. On the bright side, brother, who had maintained solvency, was able to forward him a thousand dollars. Maryrose used a good portion of that money to restock the larder.

On to Durban, where the captain found a potential new crewmate in beautiful, blonde Gail. Passportless Maryrose obviously couldn't continue on to the United States, and anyway, her tantrums were starting to get old. Gail agreed to a rendezvous in Cape Town, after she arranged her current affairs.

To round out his new domestic arrangements, Zantzinger convinced friends in America to send along children - one supplied his seven year old son Willie, and another his thirteen year old daughter Cathy. The whole menagerie met in Cape Town, and Zantzinger convinced Maryrose to debark for a crew position on another circumnavigating yacht, the Sawankhaloke.

Molly Brown set sail for points west. The whole crew enjoyed riotous fun in St. Helena and Ascension Island, though young Willie commonly had to wait outside the bar while Uncle Dickie got drunk. The Sawankhaloke showed up in all the same ports, and any residual bad feelings between Zantzinger and Maryrose were forgotten in the rounds of wild parties.

Onward to the new world. After a few adventures on the coast of Brazil, Molly Brown arrived in St. Thomas. Young Cathy had her heart broken by a mysterious stranger, but she got over it. The captain was called on deck one afternoon to find a launch approaching, carrying his ex-wife with her new husband, along with his daughter Kyle and son Richard. The youngsters joined the crew for the passage back to Miami.

Afterward, Zantzinger, an experienced sailor even before the circumnavigation, almost lost the boat on the trip up the ICW. He neglectfully allowed a line to trail overboard, which wrapped around the propellor shaft at a bad moment. The boat crashed into a closed draw, rolled over on its side and started to fill. The alert bridge operator got the draw open in time for the waterlogged boat to slip under before it sank.

Home at Spa Creek, Zantzinger enjoyed a pleasant first night ashore with friends. Over his morning coffee, he watched a Coast Guard vessel come alongside Molly Brown and lash onto her with heavy lines. He ran to the dock and found that the boat had been seized by the IRS for back taxes. The agent gave him an hour to come up with payment. Zantzinger called his brother and asked if he could raise $20,000 in an hour. "The answer to that one didn't surprise me, either. He doubted I could raise $20 in an hour." The agent was kind enough to allow Zantzinger to remove personal possessions before he had the boat towed away. One thing he came away with was the log of the Molly Brown.

Zantzinger made another circumnavigation in later years but didn't write a book about it.

Slocum got celebrity and Chichester got celebrity plus a knighthood and Zantzinger got nothing except a short-lived notoriety - not even a wikipedia page. But I think he had just as much fun as Slocum and a lot more than Chichester. That's worth something, eh?

Reviewed by Paul M. Clayton