Local counselor, Virginia Malmquist, recently returned from a journey of a lifetime. “I was so struck at how vast the ocean is and we as human beings can have such an impact on it,” she says.

Virginia and Jerry on the journey of a lifetime as they sailed 15,000 miles. Photo courtesy: Virginia Malmquist.
Virginia and Jerry on the journey of a lifetime as they sailed 15,000 miles. Photo courtesy: Virginia Malmquist.

Malmquist describes the incredible 15,000-mile oceanic excursion she and her husband took after hearing about a trip being organized by Blue Planet Odyssey to build awareness of climate change. “It took two years to get ready for the trip,” she says. “It was seven days a week and twelve to fourteen hours a day.”

From sail mending to rig and rope splicing and taking serious classes on topics such as weather and even sailing skills, Malmquist describes the vast amount of learning that had to be done before they would be able to leave port. The couple learned about weather from an instructor with the Maritime Institute and a lot of help came from Sampson Ropes in Ferndale as they prepared their 1986 sailing boat for departure.

“We had to learn serious first aid,” she says. “We had to learn how to suture.” Malmquist goes on to describe the book of information they received from their physicians that covered every country they planned to visit and included diseases prevalent in different seasons and different regions. And, as they would be on their own for a majority of the time, they would need to carry their own medical supplies including antibiotics. “When you are two days out of port, you are out of helicopter range,” Malmquist explains. “We were more than 270 miles away from shore. The closest people to us were the astronauts in the space station.”

A Village in Oa Pua with the rugged mountains in the background. Photo courtesy: Virginia Malmquist.
A Village in Oa Pua with the rugged mountains in the background. Photo courtesy: Virginia Malmquist.

Fully equipped with three of everything just in case, they set out just after the New Year on January 11, 2016 with a wind generator, radar and seven different kinds of antennae.

With a mixture of good and bad weather all the way down the coast, along with stops to visit friends and family along the way, they landed in San Diego where they tended to a long list of things to do before heading south. Doing 150 miles a day, they knew the journey to the Marquesas Islands would take 28 days. They made it in 25. “That’s pretty fast,” explains Malmquist. “Our boat is like a cross between a Porsche and a Winnebago.”

As they reached the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) near the equator, the water got warmer at 86 degrees with an air temperature of 87. Their first stop was the northernmost island of Hiva Oa. Malmquist describes this island with its spiky mountains and rugged roads and where laundry was $30 a load. “They had every kind of fruit you could think of,” she says. “Not to mention the beautiful dancing by the natives.”

Until the late 1800s the island was home to cannibals. Malmquist explains that only males were ever killed by other tribes and never the females. As a result, many families raised one of their males as a female to keep the child safe from other cannibalistic tribes.

A village chief on the island of Oa Pua in the Marquesas holding Virginia's granddaughter's gnome. Photo courtesy: Virginia Malmquist.
A village chief on the island of Oa Pua in the Marquesas holding Virginia’s granddaughter’s gnome. Photo courtesy: Virginia Malmquist.

“It really helped me think about how judgmental we can be about people with different lifestyles,” Malmquist explains about the experience. “These people openly accepted male children being raised as females. I’ve really applied this sensitivity in my own work as a counselor.”

After spending a few weeks, Malmquist and her husband left for the second island of French Polynesia where the only fruit grown was coconut. However, since the French Revolution, the island has seen the benefit of subsidized French bread.

Here, Malmquist describes her experience at a pearl farm. “We were able to swim out and dive down to collect black pearls. They were just beautiful and we used those pearls later to trade for other items we needed for the trip.”

Their last island in the area was Tahiti, which Malmquist describes as her least favorite because of its busy environment full of traffic. “They had a market,” she describes. “It began on Sundays at 4 a.m. and went to 8:30 p.m. They had everything for sale.”

At this point, Malmquist and her husband decided not to continue. With a new granddaughter at home, they decided to head back via Hawaii. First, they stopped on the small, private island of Tuao, one of the Tuamotus islands. Here they found a family of 10 subsisting on fish, coconut and breadfruit. The couple traded some supplies including 80′ of rope, ibuprofen, fresh fruit, reading glasses, a coloring book, some flour, yeast and sugar for some of the local’s beautiful black pearls.

Jerry and Virginia got ready to leave in Early December. Photo courtesy: Virginia Malmquist.
Jerry and Virginia got ready to leave in Early December. Photo courtesy: Virginia Malmquist.

One of the moments of the trip that really stands out for Malmquist is going through the Great Garbage Patch in the North Pacific, a massive collection of marine debris. “There were a lot of plastic items and other kinds of things,” she describes. “But the bulk of what was left behind are the particles you don’t see underneath because the larger items have been broken down.”

She says the experience made her even more mindful of the love she has for the earth and the treatment of it. She and her husband continue to practice this mindfulness in their own lives with solar powered property and the use of 3,000-gallon rain catchers as their source of water.

Malmquist, a counselor with an active private practice working with clients suffering from PTSD, divorce, depression and substance abuse, loves her job. She describes how this trip made her more thoughtful in her approach to experiences, “Traveling so far away has made me understand how important it is to act locally,” she explains. “It is important to be local in politics, in purchase, such as groceries, and in conservation.”

With the experience and memories from her incredible journey, Malmquist is ready to be back, working with clients and enjoying her community. She can be reached at 360-319-4266 or heronreachcounseling@gmail.com.

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