By Jackie Leavitt

I sit here, on Seaward off the coast of Southern California, taking in one of the most beautiful sunrises of my life. The sky turned from mysterious dark navy to indigo with cotton candy-colored wispy clouds to a gentle baby blue with golden clouds hinting of the sun about to crest over the horizon. It is not a bad way to start the 27th year of my life on this earth.

This past year has been the best of my life. I traveled all over the Caribbean on a sailboat for about five months, I backpacked through Colombia for two months, I started a new profession of cooking on boats, and I made a lot of new friends along the way. And one aspect of my travel that I treasure the most is my new connection with nature.

I’ve always loved going for hikes, camping and just generally appreciating the beauty that is this earth. But it wasn’t until this year that I started having up-close and personal interactions with crazy, wild life. The first magical moment was in Puerto Rico, snorkeling around the Vieques Island, and seeing my first stingray root around in the grassy bottoms, finding food for the day. The wings flew it through the water with an elegant ease.

After that, I saw my first little squids off the coast of the U.S. Virgin Islands – purple and brown, their side fins waved nonstop as they hovered in the water like tiny aliens. We swam together, with one squid being more cautious, but the other just as curious about me as I was of it, with us staring fascinated at one other.

Soon after that, while in the U.S. Virgin Islands, we swam with several sea turtles, which arched through the water in slow motion in their mellow, nonchalant attitude. How old those turtles were, I don’t know, but what they’ve gone through to be here today is beating the lottery of life, escaping the jaws of death each day, whether it’s from fellow sea creatures or humans.

Photo Credit: Lars Lindstrom

Life on the ocean is full of little moments that take your breath away. I had read about flying fish in The Long Way, and to see them for the first time left me confused as to if I were witnessing a bird or a sea creature – they literally fly above the water like fish-shaped hummingbirds, escaping the prey presumably hunting them below the water. You also see birds plummeting deep into and underneath the sea like flying cannon balls, dropping in on their unsuspecting prey.

I’ve seen oozing octopuses, fish the color of the rainbow, butterflies fluttering in a stronger breeze, dolphins jumping in the water off our bow as we cut along our path. In the turquoise waters of the Turks and Caicos, we snorkeled past a seven-foot black nurse shark, cozied into a coral reef with its tail swaying like a train behind it. In the Bahamas, we swam with a wild dolphin for an hour – it would catch our Frisbee in the water with its nose, then pass it to one of its fins, then try to transfer it to its other fin before dropping it, then try to catch it again before it slowly sank to the shallow sandy bottom. The next day, we pet a stingray that swam around our ankles like a sea dog, looking for attention.

We also caught our own fish, including Mahi Mahi, which created a strange combination of excitement and deep sadness as we reeled it in for our dinner that night, especially as the colors changed from vivid, electric green to a multi-colored blue as the life seeps away literally before our eyes.

Photo Credit: Preston Conroy
Photo Credit: Preston Conroy

As I start my new adventure on Seaward, heading to Mexico for the next few months, I begin to realize how easy it is for people to disconnect with the natural life of the earth. It is actually difficult to have a real connection – when you live in a town or city, buy your meats from the refrigerated grocery isle, and only get to breathe the clean fresh air when you go for your weekly hike or bike ride (if even that often).

I feel thankful that I am returning to nature – seeing it, touching it, smelling it, hearing it, tasting it, feeling it on my skin every day. It feels alive and good.