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Disney comes to Minden: Film crew tours North Sails loft

A large tour bus pulled up in front of the North Sails 3DL loft in Minden Saturday morning and out poured a crop of 15 athletes who might as well have walked straight out of the pages of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog.

Stepping off at the rear of the group was Roy Disney - yes, that Roy Disney - and behind him trailed a small crew carrying cameras, boom microphones and various duffle bags.

Even set nearly 300 miles from the nearest ocean, Carson Valley found its way into a feature-length documentary film that producers are hoping will do for the sport of sailing what March of the Penguins did for its species.

The cast and crew of The Morning Light project, a film that will chronicle the venture of the youngest crew to ever compete in the Transpacific Yacht Race, was in town last weekend to tour the 3DL facility, which produced the sails for their Transpac 52.

North Sails 3DL, long-known internationally for producing the sails for many of the world's top sail racing teams, has become a nearly mythic place for aspiring sailors across the globe.

"I've always heard about this loft," said Piet Van Os, the watch captain and co-navigator for the Morning Light, who is the team's oldest member at 23. "It's really cool to be here.

"Once they told us we'd be coming up to Northern Nevada, I knew they would be bringing us here. It's really great seeing how the sails get made. You don't realize how much work goes into it when you're busy using the sails."

Crew members got to ask questions of the various workers at North Sails and a couple even got a ride in the patented gantry bags that hover over the sail during the production process.

"These guys are in the process of becoming full-blown celebrities," said North Sails spokesman J. Brandon. "We're glad to have them here and we're very interested to see how this movie turns out."

The Morning Light project got its berth when Tom Pollack, the TP 52 class executive director, approached Disney about getting a young crew together to sail the Transpac race, which runs from Los Angeles to Honolulu while covering a distance of 2,225 nautical miles.

Disney, a longtime sailor and 16-time competitor in the Transpac, jumped at the idea.

"Tom gave me the idea and I expanded on it a bit," Disney said. "I wrote up a two-page synopsis of the idea, sent it over to the people at Disney and it started from there. It's just grown and grown and grown ever since and it's a really big project now."

The crew is set to compete next month in the big-boat class of the race starting July 15. It is set for a theatrical release by the Walt Disney Company in 2008.

The filming process, however, started last summer with an open casting call for experienced sailors between the ages of 18 and 23.

"I was actually offshore on a ship when I head about the casting call," Van Os, of La Jolla, Calif., said. "I sent in my application over e-mail, got accepted and had to fly off the ship from Chile."

More than 500 sailors applied, but only 30 got invited to the team trials. From there the crew was narrowed down to 15 and 11 or 12 of those will actually compete in the race with the remaining serving as alternates.

"The sailing community is pretty small, so people were talking about this project," said Chris Branning, the team's other co-navigator, 21 of Sarasota, Fla. "We had eight days of selection trials and at the end of that we had 15.

"We started training in January all the way through the beginning of May. We came together very well as a team.

"I've worked with a lot of crews in my life, but this is by far the closest group I've ever been in. I've sailed against a few of them but never with any of them prior to this."

The premise of the movie is that it will be unscripted, with no preconceived outcome. Filming began as soon as the applicants stepped off the plane for the trials last summer.

"It was really weird the first two weeks or so because we always had these cameras in our face," Van Os said. "After that, we were just so used to it, we barely even saw them any more. The camera is in your face, the boom is over your head and it just stops phasing you."

Even so, the crew hadn't been filmed in nearly a month before entering the North Sails loft and several crew members mentioned jitters about being on camera again.

"It'll be great for the sport," Branning said. "We're hoping it will really raise sailing's profile. The cameras have been with us through the whole process.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to give the people a great story."

The film is being shot in high definition from the air, from the water and onboard the sailboat by a crew that features previous Emmy winners, Oscar nominees, and even an Olympic gold medalist.

Disney said he and the producers of the film went strictly away from the growing method of pairing a group of volatile personalities for some cheap drama onscreen.

"The most important thing we're trying to do is show a group of young people come together to form a team and understand a common objective," Disney said. "We want to show people what happens on a boat once it disappears over the horizon. There is a hell of a lot that goes on out there.

"It'll be a lot of young people with strong character doing their best to win a race."

Early on, the crew has performed well. They most took fifth out of 15 big boats in the First Team Real Estate Regatta for the Hoag Cup at Newport Beach earlier this month.

"We had a couple of knockdowns, some mistakes during training," Branning said. "Hopefully we got that out of our system now that the race is approaching.

"This is a great team and we are very confident heading into it."

They'll receive some friendly competition from Disney once the Transpac starts.

"Oh, I'll be out there," Disney said with a chuckle. "I'm just going to be on a different boat."

-- Joey Crandall can be reached at jcrandall@recordcourier.com or at (775) 782-5121, ext. 212.

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