On March 20, 2010, Blair Northen found herself sprinting through an Indonesian jungle with one goal in mind — to outrun a massive and aggressive orangutan named Sassa.
After escaping Sassa, the hike became strenuous, but relief finally arrived when Northen reached the campground.
“We played jungle games at night by candlelight and drank hot chocolate for dessert,” she said. “Too bad we couldn’t have our real dessert, which was a luscious pineapple. We couldn’t have our pineapple because a very cheeky monkey came down from the trees right in front of me and stole our pineapple — he ate the whole thing.”
The next morning, after a two-hour drive to Sumatra, she went elephant trekking through the jungle.
“We got to swim and play with them afterward in the river,” Northen said. “We scrubbed them and watched them play in the natural river. It was amazing seeing these massive animals just throw themselves around in the water. They sprayed us with water from their trunks and gave us kisses.”
Northen, a Siesta Key resident, has been traveling the world for the past three years. She studied oceanography and marine biology at the University of Virginia, but when graduation came and went and she was faced with the task of choosing a career, she stuck to her gut and went after what she loved — the ocean and sailing.
In 2008, Global Expeditions hired her as a mate on mono-haul sailing boats, but she quickly moved her way up to 200-ton offshore yachts. She emerged the following year as both a dive instructor and boat captain, teaching students to sail and dive aboard schooners that circumnavigated the world. Her adventures have taken her to 10 different countries.
In the off-season during the winter, she worked on mega yachts — in particular, the 210-foot motor yacht, Peaceful Fish. She helped maintain and upkeep the yacht, previously owned by a sheikh from Saudi Arabia. When he passed away, it became a research vessel for the Save Our Seas Foundation.
“It was his private dive yacht, based out of Paradise Island, in the Bahamas,” Northen said. “That’s where I met my fiancé, Sam (Williamson), who was living and working aboard a dive yacht called Aquacat. Our boats were docked next to each other.”
During the summer, Northen takes students diving as many as three times a day in the British Virgin Islands. There, she is captain of a sailing catamaran and teaches 12 students the ropes of sailing.
Williamson and Northen, who have spent the majority of their adventures hand-in-hand, will be married in October, on Figure Eight Island.
“I definitely love waking up to my backyard being the ocean, where I can see the sunrise and sunset every day,” Northen said. “Every day is a different adventure — you never know what underwater sea life is going to show up at any given dive site or what the students are going to bring that day.”
• “One time about 4 a.m., I was on bow watch by myself off the coast of Malaysia. All of a sudden, I saw all of these lights darting every which way in the water where we were sailing, and then I saw splashes. I looked down and realized it was a pod of baby dolphins. That was one of those magical moments where you realize that you’re lucky to be alive and want to make the best of every day and enjoy the natural environment as much as possible.”
• “Sam and I went diving one morning, just the two of us, at this dive site in Guana, in the British Virgin Islands. It was my first cave dive, and it was dark until we swam into this opening, where we looked up and saw baby turtles swimming. It was, again, one of those amazing sights that you’ll never forget.”