We named our little craft “Gwaihir,” after the Eagle Wind Lord from Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” Really, she was a wind lady and a rather dainty girl at that. The name was perhaps a trifle pretentious for such a small craft, but I thought it would be a lucky name. Gwaihir was a 16-foot Soling with a centerboard, which is a retractable keel. With the board up, she drew only 16-inches. I used to tell friends that Gwaihir could sail on a wet hankie. I believe she could.

She was a surprisingly stable craft. We carried a 5 HP outboard motor so when tide and wind were against us, we could still get home. In the old days, sailboats had to drop anchor and wait for the tide, wind, or both to shift. Today, we have to get back in time for dinner … so we have outboard motors.

Sometimes, when the sea was calm and the wind was fair, we took Gwaihir out through Sloop Channel and Jones inlet to the ocean. Even a 3-foot roller looks huge when you are on the deck of such a small craft. My sailing partner was a madman on water. He would sail through thunder squalls because he liked the challenge. His father had been equally insane, so it must have been DNA.

Mostly though, I piloted her through the salt marshes, the shallow canals on Long Island’s south shore. She was ideal for shallow water sailing. We could move silently through nesting grounds of plovers, herons and divers, soundless except for a slight flapping of the jib. The birds were undisturbed by our passage and went about their business, our white sails wing-like in the breeze.

One bright day with a warm sun lighting the water and the sky blue as a robin’s egg, I anchored in a shallow, reedy spot, lay back on the bench and drifted off to sleep as I watched little puffy clouds scoot across the sky.

I awoke a while later and our white sail was covered with what seemed to be thousands upon thousands of monarch butterflies. I had drifted into their migration route and they had stopped for a rest on my little boat.


I didn’t move or say anything. Just looked up and watched, thinking that if ever there had been a perfect day, crafted for my delight, this was it. Then, as if someone had signalled, they rose in a flock and flew onward to complete their long journey. And I sailed home.



      • I grew up in the Okanagan Valley, we had many, I only see one or two on the Island. There are a few others, and I’m looking forward to the summer here, to see how many more might show up. Up north, you really didn’t see many butterflies of any kind. I love them.


        • Loss of their food supply — milkweed — is why the monarchs are vanishing. Other butterflies are succumbing to habitat loss and climate change. Here, the much colder winters have caused a lot of changes.


          • Interesting. I lived here 30 plus tears ago, so I’m going to watch see how many there are. I live in a commercially zoned area, with commerce a block away. This is going to change as the land beside us sold and between 2 and 4 years there will be a complete subdivision beside us. The land in front just sold, it’s being deforestation and a complete commercial area is going in, so we’re probably hopefully going to sell before that and move, otherwise we’re the only house here, left staring at a parking lot. Ugh not happy about this, the land has not changed in over 20 years with no interest, now suddenly, great interest and it sold. Omg


  1. What a wonderful sight that must have been! In Santa Barbara and farther up our coast there are still Monarchs in eucalyptus groves, although their numbers are diminishing.


        • In the case of monarchs, it’s loss of their food supply. They ONLY eat a specific kind of milkweed. it was a very common weed and grew everywhere, but with more efficient field clearing, they’ve cleared away the milkweed. Many of us are trying to grow it, but it’s surprising difficult to grow in a garden, yet it used to grow everywhere with no help from humans. Add climate change and lots of species are in trouble.


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