National Geographic



The Ring of Fire

“This is not the Ring of Fire of television and books; this is the real thing.”

That’s what one of the crew members says as we head toward the entrance to Blanche Bay on New Britain Island. Ten of us are leaning against the bridge deck railing taking pictures of three purple volcanoes dominating the skyline ahead of the ship.

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The Best of Voyages

On board the Mermaid Sapphire on the Solomon Sea, 100 miles from Rabaul, Papua New Guinea

This is the last day of our 2,000-mile (3,219-kilometer) steam from Sydney, Australia, to Papua New Guinea. We’re five degrees south of the equator and heading northwest at 12 knots across a flat and windless ocean.

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A No-Hitter

“Mariners call this a confused sea,” Captain Stu Buckle tells me.

An hour before sunrise, the Mermaid Sapphire had slipped out of her berth at the Australian Navy Yard and headed into the great open harbor. Forty minutes later we’re passing through the headlands into a dark-blue ocean with waves riding the crests of 6.6-foot (2-meter) swells.

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Science Partners

  • Additional major support provided by The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
  • NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego
  • University of Hawaii at Manoa
  • University of Guam