The Wacky World of Yachties Onscreen

9 October 2009 By Louisa Beckett

Marveling at the unrealistic expectations of ingénue crew, a yacht management company exec once said he thought they must have gotten their impression of the yachting industry from the movies. We didn’t know what he was talking about until recently, when we saw the Kate Hudson/Matthew McConaughey film Fool’s Gold.

When we first meet Fool’s Gold’s heroine, Tess (Hudson), she is chief stewardess aboard the yacht Precious Gem (the 138-foot Richmond Keri Lee, ex-Status Quo). This appears to be her first job in yachting, since her earlier career was researching treasure wrecks with soon-to-be ex-husband Finn (McConaughey). Tess appears in uniform at the beginning of the film (before abandoning it for a bikini), but we almost never see her working. Instead, she mopes about on deck bending the ear of her sympathetic boss, Nigel Honeycutt (Donald Sutherland) about her failed marriage.

After Finn comes aboard Precious Gem to try to talk Honeycutt into bankrolling his sunken treasure hunt, Tess stops serving at table and sits down with her boss and his daughter (and Finn) like one of the guests. Moral of the film: Some people take the term “gold digger” literally….

As you probably know, Kate Hudson is the daughter of Goldie Hawn and “stepdaughter” of Hawn’s domestic partner Kurt Russell. Together, they have made quite a family business out of portraying yachties on film. In 1987, Hawn and Russell starred together in the comedy Overboard, which skewers wealthy yacht owners to hilarious effect. Early in the movie, Hawn, playing the ultra-snobby owner, memorably disses her chief steward Andrew (Roddy McDowall) for “almost making her wait” for her morning caviar and then failing to serve a variety with the perfect mouth feel. That is before refusing to pay local carpenter Dean Proffitt (Russell) for building her new closet cabinetry out of oak rather than cedar (she may have a point there….)

The rest of the crew on the film’s 130-foot motor yacht Immaculata (the 1984 Kong & Halvorsen M/V Attessa, ex-Yecats) is oddly dressed in matching pullovers, but then the film is set in the chilly Pacific Northwest. There are a few too many engineers for the size of boat, and it’s confusing whether Andrew is chief stew or captain or both. But we don’t have enough time to figure it out before Hawn enacts the film’s title and falls into Russell’s wily trap. Moral of the story: Be nice to day laborers!

Russell did a star turn as a yachtie himself a few years later in the 1992 comedy Captain Ron, set on board a beat-up Formosa 51 ketch. Playing an itinerant delivery skipper with an eyepatch and a dreadlock or two, Russell merrily commits a sin-a-minute against the institution of captain in this romp – including flirting with the boss’s wife, encouraging the boss’s 11-year-old son to drink a beer and (last but not least) giving a lift to a band of guerillas. Moral of the story: “Delivery” has more than one meaning.

Luckily for the Hawn/Russell/Hudson family, none of them appears in the latest attempt to portray yachties in the movies. Called Donkey Punch after a sex act that plays a pivotal role in the film, this low-budget 2008 British “thriller” takes place off Palma de Mallorca on what looks like a big Ferretti. (We can understand why no shipyard took credit for providing the yacht for the film. The production values are horrible, to say nothing of the acting (by unknowns) and plot!).

Three young women on holiday in Palma wind up accepting the invitation of Mate Marcus and three other male crewmembers to join them for drinks (and ultimately drugs, sex and mayhem) on the yacht the guys appear to be minding while the owner and captain are absent. When the crew take the girls for a tour of the boat, we start to suspect the screenwriter’s complete lack of knowledge of anything nautical, which becomes totally evident when they cast off and drive offshore (“If anyone asks why we’ve left, we’ll tell them we’re emptying the bilge tanks”).

We don’t recommend watching this movie all the way through, especially after the violence starts, but a few scenes are good for a laugh. Our favorite is when the guys set the yacht on autopilot, then turn away from the windshield – or leave the helm altogether and head to the galley for a meal. They are lucky a collision doesn’t kill them before they can kill each other!

Moral: Don’t believe anything you see on the screen.

What’s your favorite yachting film?