LA JOLLA — Apollo 7 astronaut Wally Schirra urged about 200 of his Very Good Friends to dive right into the swim of things at last Thursday's "The Big Splash," a briny reception given at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Aquarium in anticipation of the new Scripps Aquarium-Museum to be built on a neighboring hillside.
Schirra, honorary fund-raising campaign chairman for the new aquarium, juggled several roles quite handily. He was present partly as a living inspiration to the Very Good Friends, a recently formed benefactors group, and partly as the evening's guest of honor. In his brief remarks, the former astronaut made it clear that, having gained a certain familiarity with outer space, he is now turning his attention to inner space, the quiet realm that lies hidden beneath the frisking waves.
"Seventy percent of the earth's surface is covered by water, and it's time we took a closer look at it," Schirra said .
Most of the guests seemed more than willing to take a closer look at all this moisture, or at least at that small portion of it circulating through the aquarium's massive, marine life-filled tanks. This was made easy for them by Katherine L'Hommedieu, the event's chairman, who nearly went overboard in her arrangements for the evening, which included rare behind-the-scenes tours of the exhibit. The party also was awash in such nautical details as a dance floor poised at the very brink of the tide pool, and mermaids posing between mounds of shrimp and other cocktail hour bait.
"This is guppy love for me," said L'Hommedieu of her role in The Big Splash. "It's a great way to bring your friends together to see all these wonderful creatures from underneath the waves."
Some of those wonderful creatures did become the stars of the show when the guests bounced upstairs to tour the narrow spaces that run above and behind the aquariums. Those who hadn't already filled up on cocktail food may have felt a touch tempted by the tank filled with large spiny lobsters, but since the same tank also housed a poisonous stonefish--these make truly superior aquatic watchdogs--the lobsters were not in any real danger of becoming someone's dinner.
An invitation to pet the tail--by far the safer end--of a large moray eel at first seemed like an invitation to view the Royal Nonesuch, but several guests did indeed roll up their sleeves and plunge in up to the elbow to touch the slippery critter.
There was a certain salt water daffiness to this little adventure, though, as pointed out by aquarist Fernando Nosratpour, who warned guests to keep their eye on the hungry looking sheepshead that shared the same tank. "That fish is pretty aggressive, and \o7 we\f7 don't stick our hands in there," said Nosratpour--but others splashed where aquarists fear to tread water.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography director Edward Frieman, who gets to spend all the time he likes with his fishy friends, stayed downstairs to entertain the aquarium's benefactors. He called the evening a milestone that brought the institution very close to its goal.
"We're almost there," said Frieman. "Another $600,000 and we've got our new aquarium." He added that if events go according to schedule, ground breaking for the new facility will be in the spring of 1989.
The guest list also included Joy Frieman, Theresa Castagneto, Dulie and John Ahlering, David Dick, Christy and Jim Jones, Gini and Durrant Kellogg, Laureen and Steve Miller, Kate Adams, Jane and Willis Fletcher, Rosemary and Jeffrey Graham, Viola and Fred Thompson, Carol and Mark Yorston, and Diane and Tom Schmidt.
SAN DIEGO--Young yachtswoman J.J. Isler told the 200 family friends and sailing enthusiasts gathered at the San Diego Yacht Club the other day that, even though "Grandma's afraid we'll get caught in a typhoon," she and sailing mate Amy Wardell intend to try their hardest to win a berth for the 1988 Summer Olympics in South Korea.
Both of Isler's grandmothers--Evelyn Fetter, and the typhoon-fearing Marian Trevor--were on hand at an informal fund-raiser aimed at giving a practical boost to Isler and Wardell's Olympic hopes. La Jollan Isler and Wardell, of Bay Head, N.J., were teammates on the women's sailing squad at Yale and have won numerous championships in 470 class boats (the type they intend to sail off Pusan, Korea), including first place in the 1986 European Championships and, most recently, a first in the 1988 United States Yacht Racing Union Women's Sailing Championships.