Flight of the Monark

We spent three weeks in San Francisco, which surprised us.  Our time was well spent between working on the boat, seeing sites and visiting with friends.  Two of our close friends, Dave and Leah, were in the bay area coincidentally on vacation from Toronto.  We had planned to tour the wine country together, but the day before we were to meet up, Fiona, and I caught the flu.  We didn’t want to infect them or their new baby, so we quarantined ourselves on the boat for 4 days.  It was a terrible flu, made worse by the fact that we had thoroughly tired ourselves sailing for the previous three months.  Fiona, who has a magical ability to sleep on command, was able to rest and didn’t suffer as much as I did.  But I kept the usual manly, “I think I’m going to die,” comments to a minimum, for which I was proud.

After San Francisco, the pressure for long passages and quick time lessens.  We bumped down the coast stopping at most ports along the way, the names of which I was familiar with from my very first computer game, called ‘California Games.’   I always picked ‘Santa Cruz’ as my sponsor and my best sport was hacky-sack.  I remember my mum copying the game from our friend’s computer to our computer, file by file.  The boot up for the game told us that our computer had ‘297k RAM, that’s way more than you need, dude. Gnarly.”  I said ‘gnarly’ and ‘dude’ a lot.

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Killin’ it at hacky sack

About 200km south of San Francisco lies the harbor of Morro Bay.  It’s quite distinct due to the large ‘rock’ that sticks up out of the water in front of town.  The rock is a volcanic plug and is protected habitat for peregrine falcons.  The plug is instrusive igneous rock, meaning that it formed underground; in this case, it plugged the neck of a volcano.  At one time the surrounding land was higher than the plug, but through hundreds of thousands of years of erosion, the plug, as it is harder rock than its surroundings, was exposed.

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Morro Bay and the ‘rock’

We spent Halloween in Morro Bay and went over to the yacht club for their Halloween party.  A member had told us that people would be dressed up, which knowing people, we figured they wouldn’t.  But we thought it would be fun anyway.  We decided to go as ‘a sailor’s worst nightmare.’  Fiona was going to be a ‘fouled anchor,’ and I would be, thanks to our experience in Eureka with the toilet, a ‘broken head.’  We didn’t have much in the way of costume supplies on the boat, so on the way back from a walk on the beach we scavenged some cardboard from the dumpster.  We had brought scissors with us for exactly this reason and received some looks from passersby as we carved up the cardboard into the semblance of a toilet seat in front of the recycling bin.  We looked pretty dodgy, and I can only imagine what people thought we were going to do, but nobody said anything.

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Fouled anchor and a broken head – Sailor’s worst nightmares

Our costumes were well received at the party, but of course we were the only ones dressed up.  We met some fellow Canadians, Mark and Eden, sailing down the coast.  They were the first people our age that we met who were doing what we were doing.  They had a large trawler, but the problems they were encountering were the same ones we were and we bonded over our shared trials and successes.  We also met a couple of older club members, in their late 70s, who, due in large part to the name of our boat and manifest interest in butterflies, offered to take us to the Monarch Butterfly Grove the next day.

Dot and Pat picked us up from the yacht club and we drove the half hour together to the butterfly grove.  Along the way we asked what they did and where they came from and the usual questions.  They were humble and deferential.  Pat said he used to work in aero-space and Dot said they like making wood carvings.  She also used to dabble in ceramics.  Their son works for Apple.  If we had had less time with them, that’s all we would have known of the Dot and Pat.  It turns out that Pat was a pioneer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and was the director of mission control for both the first unmanned satellite to the moon and the first mars orbiter.  After our visit to the butterfly grove we returned to their place for drinks and discovered that they were master carvers, who have competed world-wide (and even won a few) and make the most beautiful, intricate carvings and ceramics and basketwork.

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Pat and Dot with some of their handiwork

Dot and Pat could have, with good reason, bent our ears with their accomplishments.  But they didn’t, because their accomplishments developed naturally out of things that they were doing anyway.  The point isn’t that they did things deemed great by society, but that they were following their own path.  It’s a good lesson that often the people who are pursuing their passions are in no hurry to tell you about it.  They don’t need to impress anybody with how important they are, or the amazing things they have done.  I asked them how they had time to produce so much.  “We don’t go to the movies very much,” was Pat’s reply.

My grandparents were people who followed their own passion.  They were fascinated by the question of where Monarch butterflies go every winter.  It’s harder than one would think to follow something so small and flying so erratically for 3000 miles.  In the end and after many many years they discovered the migratory route of Monarchs from Ontario to Mexico.  Their accomplishment has been engrained in our family lore and was one of the major reasons we chose the name ‘Monark’ for our boat.  It’s an inspiration to us that such a small animal can, without gps or chartplotter, navigate such a long distance.  And inspiring that my grandparents devoted their lives to this creature’s path and were rewarded with a great discovery, for which they received the Order of Canada, but moreover with a life they thoroughly enjoyed.  It is the embodiment of a journey in many senses.

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Norah and Fred Urquhart searching for butterflies

The Monarch butterflies that fly down the west coast do not cross over the Rockies.  They will travel from British Columbia (even as far North as the Yukon and Alaska) to Southern California.  Pismo Beach is one of the southernmost locations for the Western Monarch migration.  They fly to the same small grove year after year to rest for the winter months, before flying back up North in the summer.  The grove is not much larger than a football field, but will be home to up to 100 000 Monarch butterflies, each year.  The numbers have been lessening in recent years, mostly due to large scale agriculture wiping out milkweed, the only plant on which they will lay eggs.

We visited Pismo Beach with Dot and Pat and photographed the butterflies and marveled in their journey down the coast, a coast we too had recently traversed.  It made us feel excited and emboldened.  Here is where the butterflies stop, but we keep going, our journey is really just beginning.

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Monarchs at Pismo Beach as viewed through the spotting scope

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4 Comments

  1. Christian Einfeldt
    November 6, 2015
    Reply

    Hi, Sorry to hear that you have moved on from San Francisco. I was hoping to bump into you two again at aquatic park. I still look for your boat every time I go to swim there. I hope you have a wonderful trip down the coast. If you would like a tour of the SF Bay Area when you return, you can phone me at 415-351-1300 or email me at einfeldt at g mail dot com. Good luck!

    • admin
      November 10, 2015
      Reply

      Thanks Christian, we had a great time in SF. If you’re down in Mexico this winter look us up. Otherwise we’ll see you next time we’re back in the Bay area. Have a great winter!

    • zeno
      March 2, 2016
      Reply

      Monarch butterflies make big comeback
      Monarchs cover 4 hectares in Mexico wintering grounds this year, up from 0.67 hectares in 2013

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