Whatcom County resident Virginia Malmquist received troubling news from her doctors - she would likely lose her eyesight down the road.
As the beginning of her retirement neared, Virginia, 67, and her husband Jerry, 56, decided they were going to sail around the world with the Blue Planet Odyssey group, an organization designed to raise awareness about global warming.
"We might as well do this now while I can still see," Virginia said in a phone interview.
When Virginia first brought up the idea, Jerry, the much more experienced sailor, told her she didn't know what she was getting herself into.
"I had my feelings hurt," Virginia said. "But it turned out he was more than right."
Neither Jerry or Virginia really knew what they were getting into. Jerry, who has been sailing since he was 14 years old, has far more experience than Virginia, who started sailing much later in life. Yet still, traveling around the world produces several challenges.
The biggest one will be sleep deprivation, Jerry said in a phone interview. Someone has to be on deck 24 hours a day watching the radar, the storms and the traffic. The two will likely split into four-hour shifts. When one isn't manning the boat, a 40-foot retro-fitted sailboat, they will be sleeping.
After a dozen years of marriage, the two have established a routine to sleep at night. This trip will have to change that.
Despite the challenge of spending months at sea - the two leave in late-August or early-September - Virginia and Jerry are excited for what it will bring to their relationship.
"As a therapist I'm aware of the effects something like this has on a relationship," Virginia said. "I'm excited to do this as a team. It's really exciting."
The goal is more than just a personal one. The two are trying to raise awareness to global warming in a way that hasn't really been done before.
They will join the Blue Planet Odyssey in the Galapagos Islands sometime in February 2015. The group of about 20 boats, some of which have left from the shores of European countries already, will take measurements and collect data from various spots around the world.
The goal is to find hard facts about global warming that they can report to various agencies they are working with, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration (NOAA), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and several other agencies.
There are various islands, one in particular off India, that are less than 500 feet in elevation. Finding data about global warming could save these islands.
"They're looking at not existing in a few years," Virginia said. "We are helping to provide information about what's going on in the ocean where they don't normally collect data."
Virginia and Jerry will also bring this information back to Whatcom County. Virginia is a former high school counselor and hopes to present the information to schools and local businesses.
"It's educating people on hard facts and results as a result of climate change," Jerry said. "It's education. To educate people on what is happening and what is happening is not good."
The two are currently busy preparing the boat for the trip. The 1987 boat was already prepped fairly well for the trip, as the previous owners had made some long-distance trips, but everything from the sails to the generators are being updated or replaced.
With long sea trips like this, everything needs to be in tip-top shape, especially for two people that haven't done a trip of this length on the boat.
Along with updating the boat, Jerry and Virginia are busy taking classes about ocean survival. Everything from sea trends and weather forecasting to how to fix a cut someone sustains.
"We have never done anything like this before," Virginia said. "So we are taking every class you can imagine. ...Both of us have had a steep learning curve. There's an enormous amount of information about how to do this safely."
Weather is always a big challenge at sea, but Jerry believes that it shouldn't be a problem.
"If we are watching the forecast, we shouldn't be in any big weather," Jerry said. "If we see something as a potential hazards, we can avoid it."
The challenges will pass, the data will be collected and in the end, the two will get to see the world together.
Virginia and Jerry will keep a blog updated on their travels. To follow their journey, visit heronreachodyssey.blogspot.com.