CLEARWATER — In 1976, William Wozencraft, his wife and their two cats sailed out of San Diego Harbor in a 26-foot boat headed south.
They figured they would sail around Mexico and Central America. Beyond that, who knew?
The former life insurance salesman had no idea then that he would become a fixture — and a pirate — on Clearwater Beach.
Mr. Wozencraft, creator of Captain Memo's Pirate Cruise, an institution as synonymous with Clearwater Beach as Pier 60, died Oct. 13 of liver and kidney failure. A skull-and-crossbones flag by his swimming pool in Belleair now flies at half-staff.
Mr. Wozencraft was 61.
His legacy is unmistakable: the red and black custom 58-foot Pirate's Ransom in Clearwater Municipal Marina, little black flags flapping on a lanyard from bow to stern. A hand-picked crew — with names like "Jewel Thief" Julie and "Mad Dog" Mike — still keeps children busy with water pistol fights and other games, and adults comfortably numb with a full-service bar.
Lesser known than his success is the story about how Mr. Wozencraft became Captain Memo in the first place.
The son of a Chula Vista, Calif., civil service worker, Mr. Wozencraft grew up lacking confidence. He couldn't afford fashionable clothes and was self-conscious around girls, he wrote in his autobiography, Captain Memo the Pirate — I'm having more fun than you are!!!
After a brief marriage, Mr. Wozencraft got out a "little black book" of women's names in alphabetical order. He called Pam Brown, the first name on the list. They married in 1972.
After his doctors in the Coast Guard Reserve discovered heart trouble, Mr. Wozencraft decided he needed a lifestyle change. They couple sold their condo and moved onto their wooden sailboat, the Sunchaser. Then they set sail, bound for anywhere.
They meandered through Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica, trailing fishing lines behind the boat. Anchored off Acapulco and low on cash, the couple began charging tourists for sailboat rides. They made $20 a head taking people to swimming and snorkeling spots.
To make a go of it, though, they needed more. They saw a wooden galleon in Mexico that looked like a pirate ship. A light went on for them both.
The boat sailed past the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in 1978. Mr. Wozencraft persuaded officials in Clearwater to let him start the pirate cruises. They upgraded their boat twice to the current Pirate's Ransom, which holds 125 passengers. A licensed ship's captain, Mr. Wozencraft performed at least 1,000 weddings on his ships, his wife said.
"I have always said that marriage is something you should only do two or three times in your life," he wrote, "so I have been glad to give those people a wedding they will always remember."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]