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ON THE WATERFRONT

Charters Ride August Wave of Weddings on Shipboard

August 19, 1989|SHEARLEAN DUKE

June is the traditional month for weddings, but couples wait until August if they want to get married at sea.

In Southern California--especially at the beach--June is often dreary and overcast. But August is usually filled with clear, bright days better suited for a wedding at sea.

August is one of the busiest months at Hornblower Yachts, a Newport Beach yacht charter company that specializes in nautical weddings. The San Francisco-based company, which operates four charter boats in Orange County, offers everything from small informal affairs on the 57-foot Lady Hornblower to formal, sit-down dinners on the 105-foot Pacific Hornblower.

"The smallest wedding we've ever done was one for 15 guests," says sales manager Lore Lapinsky, who helps plan weddings. "The largest was for 300. It was a cocktail-style event with roaming musicians."

The wedding ceremony is performed by the ship's captain, who is also a nondenominational minister. Wedding costs range from $44 per guest for a three-hour brunch cruise, complete with eggs Benedict, to $146 per guest for a four-hour cruise that includes an open bar, free-flowing champagne, hors d'oeuvres, dinner and wine. The cruises take place in the calm waters of Newport Harbor--not the open ocean. So far, Lapinsky says, no one has ever gotten seasick.

"Weddings make up 25% of our business. We average about 10 to 12 a month," says Lapinsky, who believes that the primary appeal of nautical weddings is the fact that they are different. "They are unique and so Southern Californian. We have this lovely harbor, nice weather and the guest response when you send out invitations is much higher than weddings on land."

The popularity of weddings at sea has grown by leaps and bounds, says Monica Sloan, a charter boat owner and captain who has lived and worked in Newport Harbor for nine years. "We see weddings in the harbor now all the time," says Sloan, who owns the 58-foot Spike Africa, a majestic schooner.

"The type of weddings we do are more casual. A lot of times they are second marriages," says Sloan, who offers weddings for groups of up to 25. "We organize them any way they want them. Most seem to want to stay in the harbor, but we have had brides who wanted to go out of the harbor under sail while they are being married."

A three-hour wedding cruise aboard the sailboat costs $600. Flowers, catering and other wedding arrangements are extra.

"People who have gotten married on the boat have thought it was really special," Sloan says. "We have another wedding coming up next month. Ours is a more intimate, informal setting, and Spike Africa is so beautiful, so romantic."

The romance of the water is another part of the appeal of nautical weddings, says Lapinsky of Hornblower Yachts. "We had one man who actually chartered one of our boats to propose. And we've got a couple who got engaged on one of our yachts during a harbor cruise who will be getting married on the 72-foot Newport Hornblower in September."

Weddings at sea run the gamut from an informal $600 sail aboard Spike Africa to a $50,000 formal affair aboard a 115-foot yacht chartered through Adventures at Sea in Newport Beach.

"The costs depend upon what kind of vessel they choose, the catering, the food and all the other goodies they want," says R.E. (Bo) Maitland, sales manager at Adventures at Sea. "Basically, we offer everything under the sun. We are similar in structure to a bridal organization on land and offer the same services, from limousines to catering. We can do weddings from eight to 400 people. And we have boats from 36 to 130 feet in length. One of our recent weddings, for a member of the Getty family, cost $35,000."

A more typical wedding for about 50 guests would run about $4,000, Maitland says.

For more elaborate weddings such as those offered by Hornblower Yachts and Adventures at Sea, most brides choose the traditional wedding gown and stick with other traditions, such as the garter toss, bouquet toss and cake cutting. After the wedding, many newlywed couples are met at the dock by a limousine. However, after one recent wedding at Hornblower Yachts, the couple were met by a gondola and floated away while all the guests aboard the wedding ship waved goodby.

At Adventures at Sea, an enterprising couple instructed the captain to return to the dock just long enough to drop off all the wedding guests. The newlyweds remained on the boat, which they had chartered for their honeymoon.

One of the key differences between a nautical wedding and a land-bound ceremony is that guests must be on time or the boat will sail without them.

"We stress in the invitations that everyone must be punctual," says Hornblower's Lapinsky. The one time that the boat did wait for someone, Lapinsky says, was when the bride was late. "Everybody, including the groom, was on board, and the captain called to ask where the bride was. She was still at home getting dressed."

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