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High-speed chases and a wave from 007

Author and her family are boating extras for filming in Panama of the new James Bond movie

“The guy with the gun waved to me, Mommy,” my 8-year-old says as he scurries down the companionway. I pop my head out and catch spray from the rooster-tail of their hot-rod RIB.

A cruising family recently had a front row view of on-the-water scenes shot in Panama for the new James Bond movie.

Our ketch careens uncomfortably back and forth. “Stay down below,” I tell him. “We’re on lockdown.” He looks at me quizzically. “No one is to be on deck,” I add. He shrugs. Neither my husband nor I are particularly concerned, either. As built, bronze, and bad as these machine-gun-wielding guys seem, we know that they are, after all, chasing Bond — James Bond.

Eon Productions spent March 2008 filming boating scenes for the 22nd James Bond movie “Quantum of Solace” in Panama, and although Special Agent 007 definitely will be driving another classy Austin Martin DBS V12 in the newest flick, he also will be zipping about the water in what the directors are simply referring to as the “indigenous” boat. Built by Doug Riddle, this unassuming vessel appears to be nothing more than a rather beat wooden motorboat. However, looks can be deceiving. We met Riddle at a stunt shoot in the marina recently, and he assured us Bond’s boat can reach speeds of 50 mph with an inboard jet propulsion system that uses a Chevy 350 engine. There are, in fact, four identical indigenous boats berthed at Shelter Bay Marina, the base of the marine operations for filming in Colón. From the floating docks, we spied a secret way for these jet boats to be steered by a ghost driver.

The Bond movies have made billions and are the longest continual film series. Daniel Craig stars as Secret Service agent 007, the sine qua non of espionage. For those of us more accustomed to Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan as Bond, we will have time to adjust, as Craig’s contract calls for five Bond appearances. The new Bond girl, Olga Kurylenko, is a 28-year-old supermodel famous for nixing her knickers, so to speak, in “Annulaire” (2005) in “Paris, je t‘aime” (2006) and in “Serpant Le” (2006). In Panama, her roll is a bit less steamy, but still wet. We almost felt sorry for her as she clung — soaking — to Bond’s souped-up water ride while the most macho spy whips around the anchorage like a cabby with a bee in his Bermudas.

With five young boys aboard, the family boat is appropriately named Boisterous.

“Quantum of Solace” also will feature two Sunseekers: the midnight blue 37-meter signature megayacht M4 and the sleek 43-foot $700,000 sports boat. During filming, these superstar yachts glide like Hollywood royalty along the fringes of an eclectic grouping of battleship-gray military boats, rusty shrimpers, humble pangas and more than 30 cruising sailboats. Craig dodges our bobbing hodgepodge obstacle course, sometimes in a faux fistfight with Olga, other times bent on creating the largest rooster tail of whitewater while being pursued by black 18-foot Avon RIBs and the staccato rata-tat-tat of machine guns.

The privately owned sailboats in the background of these dripping-wet chase scenes are a random group hailing from such distant ports as Austria, Germany, France, Netherlands and Texas. While anchored outside the Panama City Yacht Club, we were each approached by the Bond crew and offered the opportunity to be, for a fleeting moment, part of the next Bond movie. On the set, we tuned in every morning to the VHF and listened to the day’s instructions. More often than not, we were asked to keep someone aboard to up the anchor in anticipation of the director’s desire to re-arrange our mobile maze. Less often they requested that we stay below and refrain from hanging “I love you, Mom” signs from the lee cloths.

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Now, a few days from the end of our two-week movie commitment, Olga double Nicole Berwick’s bare back is badly sunburned and peeling. An assistant director has been scolded for language on the VHF, one sailboat needs its boarding ladder replaced and another has damaged davits. But the kids and I can honestly boast that James Bond waved and smiled at us, who are, to paraphrase Bond himself, “floating around the world until we have to find an honest job.”

“Quantum of Solace” opened Nov. 7 in the U.S. and quickly achieved blockbuster status.

This story originally appeared in the January 2009 issue.