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.



  1. swo8 February 5, 2017 / 2:30 pm

    Aren’t they beautiful! What a sight that must have been.

    Liked by 1 person

      • swo8 February 5, 2017 / 4:47 pm

        There may not be as many and they may have changed their route.


        • Marilyn Armstrong February 5, 2017 / 6:42 pm

          I don’t know if where we live now was ever on their route, but there are definitely a lot fewer of them everywhere. A lot fewer butterflies of all kinds around here. There used to be a lot, but not so much now. In this area, I think it’s climate change. We have animals that had been missing from this area coming back and things that had moved in, moving out. The winters — not counting this one (so far) and last year — have been MUCH more severe than they were even a decade ago. It makes a difference. Many creatures can’t deal with so much snow and cold. At least the bats are beginning to reappear. We nearly lost all of them.

          Liked by 1 person

          • swo8 February 5, 2017 / 6:46 pm

            I guess it was ever thus and they are forced to adapt or perish.


            • Marilyn Armstrong February 5, 2017 / 6:57 pm

              That is true, but habitat change caused by our clearing fields and forests is occurring too fast for anything to adapt. Natural changes are gradual. Now, one day, bulldozers show up and destroy an entire habitat in hours. NO species can adapt to that. If it was us, we could not adapt either.

              Liked by 1 person

      • Marilyn Armstrong February 5, 2017 / 3:41 pm

        The whole mainsail was covered with butterflies. It was amazing. OF COURSE I didn’t have a camera … but I never took a camera out on the boat. Too wet.


  2. Covert Novelist February 5, 2017 / 3:00 pm

    I agree with Richard, you made the day come alive, and it was easy to picture being you on your little Gwaihir, sails billowing, monarchs landing. What a delight. Adding richness to life!


    • Marilyn Armstrong February 5, 2017 / 3:43 pm

      Those were in the days when millions of monarchs traveled across the south coast of New York. I don’t know if they are there anymore. We don’t get them here, but we are inland.


      • Covert Novelist February 5, 2017 / 3:45 pm

        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.


        • Marilyn Armstrong February 5, 2017 / 6:53 pm

          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.


          • Covert Novelist February 5, 2017 / 7:00 pm

            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


  3. Garry Armstrong February 5, 2017 / 3:29 pm

    Sounds like your wind lady had YAR.


  4. tomcurley1 February 5, 2017 / 3:47 pm

    I remember that boat. I was on it!


    • Marilyn Armstrong February 5, 2017 / 3:53 pm

      I know. She was a sweet little thing. Little, being the operative world.


  5. slmret February 5, 2017 / 4:07 pm

    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.


    • Marilyn Armstrong February 5, 2017 / 6:45 pm

      A lot of people are trying to save them. I don’t know if they will succeed. Sometimes, when the population declines too much, it just can’t come back. I keep hoping, though.


  6. micketalbot February 5, 2017 / 6:15 pm

    Wow, a once in a lifetime moment, lucky you!


    • Marilyn Armstrong February 5, 2017 / 6:39 pm

      Yes, it really was and it felt like a very special time. I didn’t know that all these years later, the monarchs would be fighting to keep from going extinct, but they were a magnificent sight. Breathtaking. Really.

      Liked by 1 person

      • micketalbot February 5, 2017 / 7:32 pm

        Like most butterflies, sad, global warming is taking its toll, not just that species ether.


        • Marilyn Armstrong February 5, 2017 / 7:35 pm

          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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