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WILD WEST

Stop cooing and swab the deck

In diapers and a Pooh personal flotation device, this baby's been shanghaied into the seafarin' life.

June 01, 2004|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS

Santa Monica Bay — IT'S ONE THING TO STAND AT THE HELM OF A SAILBOAT WITH A salty breeze in your face, a song in your heart and the occasional powerboater on your nerves. But just try it with drool on your blouse and a diapered daughter at your feet. This is seafaring of another order, and these are the circumstances of my friend Eve Fisher today.

It's a cloudless Sunday afternoon, and Eve has just steered her 36-foot Catalina sloop beyond the Marina del Rey jetty. Now the bay spreads before us. Our sails snap full, the swells build, and down by the cabin door, Eve's little Isabelle, barely a year old, squirms in a keeper's hands, attempting Houdini maneuvers in her Winnie the Pooh flotation device.

"Sailing and Hebrew school -- they're not optional in our household," says Eve in her best captain-choosing-a-course voice. Or maybe this is her Mom-laying-down-the-law voice. Today is Eve's first Mother's Day as a mother. She and Michael, Isabelle's father, brought their adopted daughter home from Guatemala in December.

The nautical life is a many-sided thing. Along with the families it binds, it strains and fractures plenty too. Since long before Homer dreamed up Ulysses and Penelope, men have been going down to the sea for duty or sport or plunder, leaving women and children behind on land for hours, days, weeks, years. The women and children tend not to like it. And if women approach the boats themselves, that doesn't always work out smoothly either.

"Sailing is a sexist sport," says Eve. "Why else would there be a National Women's Sailing Assn.?"

So if you're Eve -- that is, a 46-year-old working woman with a baby, a beloved sailboat and a partner who crews racing yachts -- you have some ticklish navigating to do. Come the weekend, are you at the marina? The merry-go-round? Say you're at the marina with Isabelle but Michael can't be there. Do you need a second seasoned sailor aboard for added safety? (Eve's answer today is yes, absolutely.)

And what about five years from now, when the call of soccer, play dates and birthday parties escalates into a full-fledged siren song? Does somebody get tied to the mast?

When your target audience is barely 1, there's no sense campaigning subtly, so Eve makes her ambitions for Isabelle clear. Her little jumper has an anchor on it. Her Hebrew name is Yama, inspired by the Hebrew word for the sea. Soon, Eve and Michael plan to create a makeshift playpen in the boat's cabin, and under questioning Eve discloses that Isabelle laid eyes on this yacht within 48 hours of arriving in the U.S.

"We brought her down here to get her used to it," says Eve. "We took her down into the cabin, sat in the cockpit with her."

An immigrant, fresh on the boat.

There is, of course, a back story here. Nearly 50 years ago, a tough-guy entrepreneur named Irving Fisher owned a diner in downtown L.A. One day a customer had a heart attack. Died in Irving's arms. Long after the death, this worried and gnawed at him. Eventually, somebody suggested he channel that anxiety into something healthy. Like boating.

Irving was Eve's father. She was 4 when he bought his first vessel, a 28-foot powerboat he named the Little Eve and docked at San Pedro. Little Eve II followed, and then Little Eve III, a 42-footer that carried mother, father, Eve and two brothers out to Catalina for stays of weeks on end every summer.

"They used to give me Dramamine in my sausage at the pancake house on the way to the marina," Eve remembers.

The sea is the holiest place she knows, she says, and "it's literally where I get any kind of spiritual charge, and the most relaxing thing for me."

Her dad sold his powerboat as she approached her teens, and then she went off to college. But in 1985, about the time Eve was finishing law school, her father laid eyes on a 47-foot sailboat. The price was close to $100,000, but it didn't matter. He dubbed it the Double Coupon to remind everyone that it takes years of frugality to arrive at such an extravagant moment.

So the Fishers were at sea again. But now Eve's brothers, who had widening interests, were occasional visitors. Eve was the mainstay.

"A, I loved it. And B, my father needed help. He was not in the best health," says Eve. While he stood at the helm, she pulled sheets and cleaned up. Before long, she says, "people knew not to invite me places in the afternoon on Saturday or Sunday, because I wanted to be sailing."

And when he died in 1991, Double Coupon passed to his daughter. She eventually sold the big boat in favor of a smaller, more maneuverable vessel. Which she immediately renamed. Hence the vessel beneath our feet is now the good ship Irving.

In addition to the captain and the captain's kid, our party includes Eve's aunt Marcia, her sailing friend Mark Rigger and Mark's daughter Chelsea, nearly 13 years old, who proves our most valuable crew member, adeptly scrambling fore and aft and driving for a bit.

"I like the thought of being somewhere else other than land," Chelsea says later. "It's really nice to stick your feet in the water."

In other words, we have two generations of sailors aboard, with the prospective third at the captain's feet in that Winnie the Pooh flotation device.

As we head out the channel, Isabelle's lower lip quivers. As we tack and bear north, her eyes close. As we come about, the dozing continues. After a while, Eve yields the helm to the Riggers, father and daughter, in favor of a little time with her own daughter in laptop mode, giggling and nibbling.

She's still a small creature, Isabelle, holding infinite possibilities in those tiny hands. Well, almost infinite possibilities.

"I'm not going to be a tyrant," Eve insists. But when it comes to sailing, says this mom, "she's not going to have a lot of options in her earlier years."

*

To e-mail Christopher Reynolds or to read his previous Wild West columns, go to latimes.com/chrisreynolds.

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