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La Jolla High grad stars in documentary

Disney’s new documentary “Morning Light” is an adrenaline rush from beginning to end. The movie is about a team of 11 young people competing in the Transpac, one the most revered of open-ocean sailing competitions. “Morning Light,” the closing film of the San Diego Film Festival, opens nationwide Oct. 17. The movie stars La Jollan Piet van Os as one of the sailors.

Joining Piet in an interview about the film were executive producers Roy E. Disney and Leslie Demeuse. Wearing one of the “Morning Light” team shirts, Piet, now 23, seemed as peppy and ready to talk about the movie as he appeared while climbing the boat’s main mast in the film.

Piet was 1 when his parents moved to La Jolla, where he grew up. His family members were avid sailors, and Piet said he was born to sail. The Transpac, a race from the coast of California to the Diamond Head lighthouse, near Honolulu, covers approximately 2,500 nautical miles. Piet welcomed the rigid test of both personal and mental abilities.

“My grandfather won the Transpac in his boat, Nam Sang, in 1961,” Piet said. “I was a boy then, but knew I was destined to do the race someday.”

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Piet was attending California Maritime Academy and on a training cruise in Chile when he learned Roy E. Disney was looking for 15 sailors for a team that would race in the 2007 Transpac. Piet not only made the 15, but survived the cut to 11 sailors - 10 men, one woman.

“It was a dream come true,” he said. “To do the thing I love most, work with the best coaches around and make incredible friends was more than I can imagine.”

Disney said his film is about more than sailing. “It’s a film about some young adults sailing across the ocean who make a bond and become more than the sum of the parts.”

“Morning Light” is almost like a reality show. The first part of the film details the rugged training. This includes an exercise where a sailor is thrown overboard and must stay afloat while the boat, traveling at high speed, comes about and returns to rescue him.

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One thing vital to the team’s training is learning to trust each other. For one of the exercises, team members were blindfolded and led around for a day by another team member. “Until then I didn’t know what it meant to rely on someone else or put your life in their hands,” Piet said.

The idea of the race was not new to Disney. He’s sailed the Transpac 16 times as well as in The America’s Cup.

“It’s a fascinating and exciting event,” said Disney, a producer and writer of film and TV shows and the former vice chairman of Disney’s board of directors. “We knew watching these young kids come together as a team and go through this rigorous training as well as the event, would make a compelling documentary.”

He’s right. One can’t help but wonder where 11 people, plus a cameraman, sleep in a 52-foot boat, what they eat, or how one female manages to exist among 10 loud, testosterone pushing, win-at-all-costs, smelly men.

Producer Demeuse had a good idea how it would all go down. “My father dragged me down to the docks at an early age, and I love the sport. People think it’s only for rich people, but that’s not true. Anyone can become a crew member.”

Piet likes that sailing is a family sport. “It has no age barrier, it takes team work and it’s lots of fun.”

Since graduating from the Maritime Academy, Piet is now a certified yacht captain able to pilot commercials boats.