Star-struck schooner

Sailing: A family-run charter company gets a brief taste of Hollywood.

July 15, 2005|By Chris Yakaitis | Chris Yakaitis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Sharon Bubel, a tourist from Atlanta, stands at the helm of the schooner Woodwind II as it glides from Annapolis Harbor into the Chesapeake Bay on a breezy Wednesday afternoon.

As Bubel delicately grips the wheel, Woodwind II crew member Micah Sauntry offers guidance at her side. "Spin to the right," he says.

Crew member Tiffany Talsma adds: "Like in the movies!"

Like Christopher Walken.

Last year, the actor stood at that very helm, shooting scenes along the Chesapeake for the summer comedy Wedding Crashers, which opens today. The film's production staff chartered the Woodwind II for several long working days in late May and early June 2004, offering the 74-foot sailing vessel a national showcase and its crew a brush with Hollywood.

"Christopher Walken was so jovial, one day he was singing Fly Me to the Moon," says Jennifer Brest, the 35-year-old captain and director of public relations for Schooner Woodwind/Running Free Inc., the family-run company that owns Woodwind II and its sister vessel, Woodwind. "He also had a day where he wasn't in a great mood. I think he was starting to get a little seasick."

The film stars Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn as 30-something marriage counselors from Washington who chronically crash weddings to meet bridesmaids. (One-night stands ensue.) The two aging cads end up marooned for a weekend at the Eastern Shore estate of an elite political family when, alas, Wilson's character falls in love. As the plot unfolds, his love interest's father, played by Walken, enjoins the men to partake in various Maryland pastimes - including a ride on his sailboat.

As part of a somewhat chaotic shooting schedule, the Woodwind II was shuttled back and forth among St. Michaels, Oxford and Cambridge, which required several evening and late-night journeys on the bay. Much of that work fell to Brest's father, Ken Kaye, 58, who co-owns the company with his wife, Ellen.

"Dear old dad gets to do all the deliveries at night and Jen gets to hang out with the stars," he says jokingly.

The celebrity clientele and major studio production provided a novel experience for Kaye and Schooner Woodwind, which offers two-hour public cruises, private charters and a Saturday-to-Sunday "boat and breakfast" from its dock at the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront hotel. The crew also instructs tourists and neophyte sailors in the basics of sailing, allowing them to raise the sails and man the helm as they navigate the Chesapeake.

Brest says the film's producers initially approached the Annapolis Yacht Company, a local brokerage, to purchase a boat for the shoot. But with no suitable vessels for sale at the time, the brokerage passed along a few brochures from Annapolis charter companies - and a recommendation for Schooner Woodwind.

"The next thing I know, we have scouts coming down," Brest says.

Ellen Brest, who handles most of Schooner Woodwind's business affairs, said the company earned about $30,000 for its role in Wedding Crashers.

When filming began last year, Brest and her crew adjusted to the trappings of a high-profile shoot. She primarily communicated with the director and cast through a marine coordinator hired for the film.

"I was told, `Do not talk to the actors. Every moment that you talk to them you're wasting $200 worth of film time.' So I was really scared," she says. "We got to know all the prop guys and the makeup people."

But 22-year-old Jon Krisman, another captain with the company, scored an unspoken role in the film, complete with the Hollywood treatment.

"They said I looked too much like Owen Wilson, so they made me cut my hair," he says.

Krisman shows up briefly, helping the film's principals on and off the boat - and sporting a close-cropped, thoroughly moussed hairstyle distinct from Wilson's trademark shag.

"I had a long conversation with Owen, and he was talking about sailing in Texas. As far as Vince Vaughn, he just came up right away the first day we were on shooting ... We were talking throughout the whole day," says Krisman, a St. Louis native. "I talked to them like normal people and they talked to me like a normal person."

Brest was intimately involved in the filming but never appeared on camera. As Walken "captained" the Woodwind II, she sat to his right, beneath the lens, and steered the boat with her left foot. At another point, she lay flat on the boat's deck - with a compass on her chest - and craftily navigated through the shallow straits of the Choptank River as the cameras rolled.

She also risked appropriating a few expensive moments of Walken's time during the shoot. After the actor misnamed the schooner "Windwood" in several early takes, Brest says, she explained to him the derivation of the name - her father's previous career as an elementary-school music teacher.

"For the next 60 takes, he was always saying the name of the boat correctly," she says. "It was just one of those fun moments."

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