Judith Endler got into sailing by accident in 1985.
"My ex-boyfriend had a boat and we'd go sailing," said Endler, a Hermosa Beach graphic artist. "It was the most marvelous thing. When we broke up I bought his boat. Then I got all the women I know involved with sailing."
One of them is her niece, E.J. Endler, who spent two years on UCLA's club sailing team. She was 15 when her aunt first took her out on a boat.
"I never took lessons," said E.J. Endler, 23, who recently earned a degree in art from UCLA. "I learned everything by osmosis. . . . It's more work than people think."
Said Judith: "You have to pay attention to every single detail. This is being physical and mental all at the same time."
Judith and E.J. Endler have sailed together competitively since 1986. Nancy Pate-Nelson and Trish Cooper complete their four-member crew, which sails out of the South Bay Yacht Racing Club, where Judith Endler is vice commodore.
This weekend, the team will compete in the United States Sailing Assn.'s Area J finals in Santa Monica Bay. The top nine teams from Santa Barbara to San Diego will participate in the event, which begins at noon Saturday and concludes on Sunday.
The winner of this weekend's nine-race series will represent the area at the national Adams Trophy finals at the Eastern Yacht Club in Massachusetts in September. That race is the country's oldest and most prestigious in women's sailing.
"The Adams Trophy is one of the only national regattas for women sponsored by the U.S. Sailing Assn.," said Elise Anderson, who is handling publicity for this weekend's race. "There just aren't that many women's events."
Each course winds around markers and is about three miles long. The round-robin format means that every crew will take turns racing in each of the 24-foot sailboats that have entered the event.
Judith Endler, a fit and agile 53-year-old, is the South Bay Yacht Racing Club's skipper. E.J. Endler is the spinnaker trimmer, Pate-Nelson is the foredeck and Cooper is the tactician.
The crew placed second in the area Adams Trophy finals in 1991 and '92. It also won the four-race series for women the past two years. In '91, Endler and her crew placed first at the Canadian-American Interport Regatta and the UK High Point Series.
"Personalities can make or break a team," Judith Endler said. "The reason we're together is because we work so well together. A sense of humor is critical."
Cooper, 27, knows how crucial it is that crew members get along. She has taken two round-trip expeditions from San Pedro to Hawaii. On both trips she was the only woman among 10 crew members on a 70-foot boat.
On Friday, she returned from her second San Pedro-Hawaii journey. She plans to make the trip many times in the future.
"It's beautiful," Cooper said. "I really like being in the middle of nowhere. There's really nothing out there, which is part of what makes it so great."
Cooper, a graduate student at USC, started sailing as an undergraduate at UC Irvine, where she earned a degree in economics. She has more than 15,000 racing miles under her belt.
"The good thing about the short races is the excitement and exhilaration," Cooper said. "Distance races are very relaxing. You eat, sleep and sail. They're completely different."
Pate-Nelson, the vice president of an insurance company, says the sport is not as easy as it appears. She started sailing in 1981 when she lived in Tampa, Fla.
"Most people look at sailing as relaxing, just cruising along," she said. "But the reality is that it's a physical sport and it's intense. It can also be a dangerous sport. You have to be alert and prepared to think and react to situations."
None of the South Bay crew members have sustained serious injuries, but Cooper experienced a scary incident during a race on a bigger boat in 1991.
"We were about 100 miles from the finish line and (a crew member) fell and broke five ribs and punctured a lung," she said.
Judith Endler, who is also a helmsman, has not experienced anything like that in her career. She has won more than 10 sailing titles, many of them in co-ed races.
She is also the first woman in the 29-year history of the Assn. of Santa Monica Bay Yacht Clubs to achieve flag position. That group is comprised of 15 yacht clubs from Redondo Beach's King Harbor to Marina del Rey.
"There's nothing like sailing," she said. "Whatever age or size or strength, there's a position for you somewhere. Everyone can do it."
Now Endler's goal is to bring the Adams Trophy to the West Coast for the first time in its 69-year history.