Your browser does not support modern web standards implemented on our site
Therefore the page you accessed might not appear as it should.
See for more information.

Whatcom Watch Bird Logo

Past Issues

Whatcom Watch Online
The Heron Reach Sets Sail for the Seven Seas

August 2014

Unsung Heroes

The Heron Reach Sets Sail for the Seven Seas

by Kathryn Fentress

Kathryn Fentress and her husband moved to Bellingham 20 years ago for the water, trees, fresh air and mountains. She is a psychologist in private practice and believes that spirit is everything. Living in harmony with nature reflects a reverence for life. She delights in finding and meeting those people whose stories so inspire all of us.

In Bellingham, Marina Ginny and Jerry are busy preparing their 40-foot sailboat for a journey to circumnavigate the globe. Their boat, Heron Reach, and 20 other sailboats will gather data on climate change for the next three years. As volunteers for a project named Blue Planet Odyssey, they are working in conjunction with NOAA, UNESCO, MIT, University of Miami, Cornell University and Plymouth University in England.

The Odyssey sailors will collect data on salinity, acidity, temperature, plankton density, marine debris and bird sightings. They will visit the island communities of Tuvalu, Tokelau, Tuamotus and the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific, the San Blas Islands in the Caribbean, and the Maldive and Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean, where people have experienced the first ocean water wash overs in recorded history. These island communities are now in danger of extinction as the lands they have used for centuries for cultivation have been rendered useless by rising sea water.

Education to raise awareness of climate change will be offered through school programs in the home ports of the Odyssey participants, schools located in the starting places of the odyssey and in schools in the endangered islands and communities en route. Ginny has already presented basic information in local schools about climate change and brainstormed with the kids about how to reduce their carbon footprints. Schools are encouraged to link up with Blue Planet Odyssey through blogs, social media, online newsletters, and Skype.

The volunteers of this project are doing community projects on the islands they visit and posting information about their experiences and research through blogs. Other interested people will be joining the various boats for short trips along the way. This is one of the most extensive research gathering projects ever launched in our planet’s oceans and potentially the most far reaching educational program on climate change.

Jerry has 42 years of experience sailing on other people’s boats. He lost his right leg at age 12 in a motorcycle accident and began sailing lessons at 14 with the Seafarers Scouts in Los Angeles. He eventually crewed on racing sailboats and spent 5 months sailing in New Zealand and Australia. A gifted mechanic, he loves fixing cars, trucks, and helicopters.

He and Ginny met in 1999; he was living in North Bend and she was working as school counselor in Seattle. In 2001 they purchased a 20-acre forested parcel with a shell of a house, a cabin and a pond in the Goshen-Everson area of Whatcom County. Jerry found work at Wilson Motors and Ginny worked as a school counselor and developed a part-time private practice.

Devoted environmentalists most of their adult lives, they worked together to finish the house with solar panels and a rainwater catchment system. One of Jerry’s dreams materialized when he opened his own shop full time on their property in 2008. Even before the Transition Whatcom Unleashing in 2009, these folks established a strong neighborhood association that is still very active. Ginny helped organize the first two Whatcom Skillshare Faires.

After they bought their first boat Heron Reach in 2012, they sailed together around the San Juan and Gulf Islands. In early 2013 Ginny began plans for retiring; she is 67 and 11 years older than Jerry. About the same time, two other significant things happened: Jerry read an article in a sailing magazine about the Blue Planet Odyssey and Ginny was diagnosed with macular degeneration. The project inspired them both, and the added time pressure for Ginny to adventure while she still had good eyesight catapulted them into signing up for the adventure.

Ginny and Jerry have been preparing for months with classes on sailing, navigation, celestial navigation, first aid, computers and Spanish. Currently, they are overhauling their boat by replacing plumbing and portholes, rewiring, and adding new mattresses and electronic equipment for communication and data gathering. They depart this August, sailing down the west coast to California visiting friends and family along the way. They will rendezvous with other Pacific Odyssey boats in the Galapagos Islands in mid-February. From there they will sail to Easter Island. The 20 boats will cover different areas along the route and communicate with each other every evening. The Northwest Passage and European Odyssey boats set sail in July and August.

Ginny shared “My dream is to see some of the places in the world that are fast disappearing. The Maldives have an average altitude of 4’ 11’’. My greater dream is that other people in the world will see these places and be moved to take steps here and there to change things. With thousands of little steps, big changes will happen. More personally, since I am losing my eyesight, my goal is to see as much of the world as I can and store up these images as memories to savor later on. I am also aware of the marvelous opportunity for my marriage, for us to share this adventure as life partners.

Jerry went on to add “I’m excited about the incredible adventure and the opportunity to experience the challenge of living independently. I look forward to the education for myself, learning from all the people we will meet around the world, and what we will be teaching others about how critical things are now for everyone’s survival.”

What a remarkable adventure and service to the planet these folks are embarking on! Thank you to Ginny and Jerry and all the other intrepid sailors of the Blue Planet Odyssey. We send them off with our support and heartfelt gratitude.

For more information about the Project and/or to monitor the Heron Reach’s progress, check out And

Know of any unsung environmental heroes you’d like to see profiled in future columns? Email me at

Back to Top of Story