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Passage: Tonga to Vanuatu


One of the countless delights of sailing across an ocean is to be aware of the earth’s surface under the water. You know, on the sea bed, the place where all types of extraordinary events occur and awesome creatures live! A place just as interesting as the water and sky above, an environment with character rich with canyons, sea mounts, abysses, plateaus, and yes, active VOLCANOES!!! We have a map of them. We know where they are. What? Is that the water getting warm? Yes, the nautical charts we use on Joyful show us where all these natural phenomena are, how deep or high they are, and their exact location! We have the need to know because the sea bed between Tonga and Vanuatu has many volcanos and fissures under the water, and we must avoid them! Come with us, read on….. and see if you begin to warm up as you read….if you do, it means that there is a volcano under Joyful’s hull and ultra exciting things can start happening! Ooooooohhhhhh!

Let’s get to the point. Why should we be concerned about sailing over an active volcano? Let’s ask Flat Mr. Davis, our resident volcanologist onboard Joyful. Flat Mr. Davis, as Joyful’s devoted blog readers will know, is the flat, but with a well rounded personality, cardboard likeness of the three dimensional Mr. Davis, who is the principal of the Round Hill Elementary School (RHES) in Round Hill, Virginia. The RHES students have partnered with Joyful to be our beloved, devoted, and fun “land based crew”, as well as to participate in the Sail the Odyssey Educational and Scientific Programs of the Blue Planet Odyssey (BPO). Mr. Davis constructed Flat Mr. Davis, and asked if Flat Mr. Davis could be a sailor on Joyful as we circumnavigated the world. Our pleasure! Flat Mr. Davis is a trusted and loved crewmember, helping to make this world adventure one of the best times in our lives!

So what did Flat Mr. Davis say about sailing over an active volcano on the seabed? We asked him. “Not a good idea, mates!” shouted Flat Mr. Davis in a Force 8 wind! He continued by reciting more facts…”That’s right, because when gases erupt from a fissure or volcano, as the gas bubbles rise to the surface of the sea, the water becomes less dense. If there are enough bubbles, a boat sailing in that less dense water can sink! Yes, just drop down and get covered with water, ruin the tea…you know, with salt and all that!” Flat Mr. Davis continued, and calmly and succinctly said, “Not only can the gases cause a boat to sink, a volcano can raise the temperature of the water to be too high for a boat’s own good!” “Wait! There’s more!”, announced Flat Mr. Davis. “A volcano can also emit pumice, ash, and other three dimensional materials which will, if in a high enough concentration, not only sand the anti fouling paint right off of the hull of a boat, but also the gelcoat right down to the fiberglass! And that spells an ‘undesirable thing’ in any language!” Well, Flat Mr. Davis, thank you for being so candid.  We did not sail too near volcanoes on the ocean bed.  But they can spring up anytime, so we monitored the sea water temperature since an increase of degrees is a clue of volcanic activity.

So, as we sailed Joyful on this passage, we began recording the sea temperature in our hourly ship’s log entries, so as we sailed by a self-imposed volcano exclusion zone of 15 or more nautical miles away from charted volcanoes, we might notice if the sea’s current was sweeping dangerous water into our intended course! By the grace of God, no volcanoes or fissures caused us harm! The sea temperature ranged between 25 to 29.2 degrees Celsius (77 to 84.5 degrees Fahrenheit), which are normal sea temperatures for this latitude during this month.

Yes, dodging sea bed volcanoes was interesting and fun, but the other encounters we had with God’s wondrous sea and sky were amazing, too! Please look at the photos, and if you see one that tweaks your imagination, take a moment to read its caption. Then you will see what Joyful was like to sail on passage between two awesome countries in the vast South Pacific Ocean, Tonga and Vanuatu!

Here’s some data about some points of interest I try to include in every blog entry. Each entry is different that the previous, so its worth writing about, I believe.

On Observing Sea Birds – On this passage from Tonga to Vanuatu, we did observe some sea birds, but we were unable to photograph them or positively identify them. The best we can manage is to report that they appeared to be either brown boobies, or something like them in silhouette. Perhaps they ate squid, because Flat Mr. Davis found a dead squid on Joyful’s deck early one morning, as we sailed into Vanuatu. On previous passages in the South Pacific Ocean during this circumnavigation, we noticed when there were many sea birds soaring around Joyful as they hunted, that sometimes they would drop squid onto her decks, and the squid would leave black ink stains on Joyful’s teak decks! The ocean water and sunshine removed the ink after a few days at sea. During these passages, we never actually saw squid in the water…But they were certainly there looking at us!

Secchi Depth – The current or Joyful’s movement through the water was always too great for us to take a Secchi Depth reading while on this passage from Tonga to Vanuatu. We highly value the Secchi Disk that Mr. Muldowney’s 5th grade science students from the Round Hill Elementary School kindly made for us to use on this circumnavigation because it allows us to obtain Secchi Depth readings, which we submit to the Secchi App. Secchi Depths allow oceanographers at the University of Plymouth in Plymouth, England, to study phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are essential for life on earth to flourish.

Observing Other Marine Wildlife – During this amazing passage across the South Pacific Ocean from Tonga to Vanuatu, we observed several birds, one squid, hundreds of flying fish, and billions of phosphorescent phytoplankton!

The squid, as mentioned earlier, was a souvenir a sea bird placed on Joyful’s deck.

Flying Fish
We saw countless glides of shiny, silver colored flying fish soaring only a few inches above the water’s surface. These guys were awesome! They would ride the air right above the water’s surface as they fled for their lives from lightening fast fish below the surface. They would soar only inches/centimeters above the water’s surface with great ease, and sometimes travel as far as 100 feet (30.5 meters) or more, because they were enabled by something called, “ground effect”. Pilots also utilize ground effect while they perform special, low altitude maneuvers! Ground effect is the phenomenon of an airplane or in this case, a flying fish, having less drag and more lift by being so close to the ground, or in this case, the water. That is why the flying fish can soar so far horizontally out of the water to escape their predator under the water! They never once crashed into a wave! They all “landed” at the about same time. We always loved watching those flying fish, and hoped, through their courage and valiant effort, they would keep from being gobbled up by the big fish chasing them!

More critters?
Just because we only saw flying fish and a squid during this passage, it didn’t mean the ocean wasn’t teaming with other creatures from the deep! On the contrary, we know there is more life beneath the surface of the sea than there is on land! So one of my favorite things to do at sea is to observe the water, both distant waves, and close up surfaces, in hopes of seeing a sea creature!
Monitoring Radiation Levels
One of the scientific projects with which Joyful is involved is that of recording the radiation levels that we experience along our sailing route. Radiation is a form of energy that comes from various sources (e.g. x-rays, radon gas, nuclear power plants, etc.), which, if the levels are too high, could cause a health hazard. On Joyful, we use a GQ Electronics GMC-320 Geiger Counter to take radiation level readings. The data we record is sent to the Nuclear Emergency Tracking Center (NETC), a world wide volunteer radiation reporting site. NETC posts radiation readings from numerous sources, including the US Environmental Protection Agency and volunteer reporting sites, into a data base; the summary is shown on We take hourly readings when we are on passage.

The highest count per minute (CPM) reading on this passage from Tonga to Vanuatu was 22 CPM; however, the readings ranged from 5 to 22 CPM, never staying at any particular number for long, fluctuating sometimes as much as 8 CPM. The dosimeter (Geiger counter) will show a new reading about every second. We keep the dosimeter inside of Joyful’s saloon, usually at the chart table out of the sun. We keep it charged via a USB port connected to Joyful’s 12 Volt electrical supply.

Mission Joyful

Artistic Inspirations from the Lord About this Passage from Tonga to Vanuatu

The Lord’s Hedge of Protection
During this passage from Tonga to Vanuatu, the Lord blessed us once again, as He always has, with His gracious hedge of protection. Every morning and before each meal, even when we lived on land, Jeff and I would pray in the name of Jesus Christ, for God’s hedge of protection for us, our loved ones, members of our military, our churches, and those we met in life, and we thanked Him for His blessings and for keeping us safe.

Now that we are living on Joyful as we circumnavigate the world, we continue to pray many times throughout the day and night. Minutes before setting sail at the beginning of every passage, Jeff and I gather together with Bill (our crew), and I say a prayer to our Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, to ask for the Lord’s hedge of protection for Joyful, Jeff, me, Bill (our crew), all the other sailors at sea, our loved ones back home, our friends and relatives throughout the world, our military, our churches, and the people we meet along the way. We also thank Him for His blessings and for keeping us safe.

Then, near sunrise, when I take over watch duties from Jeff, he and I repeat the same prayer.

Also, before every meal on Joyful, we repeat the same prayer, and of course, we thank Him for God’s blessings and for keeping us safe.

Every landfall, when we arrive at our destination and finish anchoring, attaching to a mooring, or tying Joyful to a dock, Jeff, Bill and I always gather together immediately and I say a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for granting us His hedge of protection during that passage at sea. God always listens to our prayers. We love Him so much, and trust Him to do His will, even if His plan is not the same as our plan! “Your will be done”….That is also our daily prayer!

So during this passage, the Holy Spirit impressed upon me a verse from the Bible which reminds me of the Lord’s hedge of protection. It is:

Psalm 18:2 “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust.”

That verse will be the one I will incorporate into the design of a piece of art work I will create which reflects the most significant aspect of this passage from Tonga to Vanuatu. I plan on publishing a book of my artwork of that variety which reflects important aspects of the circumnavigation; every passage and every landfall. Each work of art will feature the Word of God, and will be created in watercolor and gilded in 24 karat gold and silver in the traditional method used by European monks during the middle ages. I plan on publishing the book via the traditional method, as well as through e-books. My hope in doing so is multifaceted. Among the reasons are these three: I wish to bring the Word of God to those who do not know it, to encourage people in their walk with Christ for those who do, and to use it as an inspiration to others to be open to the Holy Spirit in their own lives.

I must say, if you liked learning about volcanoes on the sea bed, and how Joyful avoided them, stay tuned for the next chapter of this blog regarding the landfall of Vanuatu. Let’s see what God has in store for Joyful!

God bless you!

0. At the custom’s dock in Neiafu, Tonga, minutes before we set sail, Soakai’s family gave us a lovely Bon Voyage feast and prayer ..

oo. A main blessing of our Tongan visit was our friendship with Soakai, Ana, Kilisitina, Otolose, and Tiara. Minutes before we sailed away, we all prayed to the Lord together, and they and we asked God to give us all His hedge of protection.

1. Joyful sails past Soakai’s home on the beach as we depart Tonga for Vanuatu. Jeff sits near the fruits they graceously gave us which are stowed in Joyful’s cockpit nets. No room below for fresh fruit and vegetables during long passages at sea.

2. A Tongan sunset was a sweet departing view of a wonderful island, and blessed people.


3. Joyful’s passage to Vanuatu began with a gorgeous Tongan sunset. If you look closely, you can see another sail boat on the horizon to starboard of Joyful’s bow.

4. As we sailed away from Tonga, bound for Vanuatu, a gorgeous sunset welcomed us to sea! Another sailboat was heading for sea, as well as Joyful.

5. A typically gorgeous Tongan sunset blessed us as we sailed away from Vava’u into the night bound for Vanuatu.

6. Now the loom of the sun is almost gone and the night will set in. Joyful loves sailing at night or day. There is no difference to her.

7. To celebrate the passage from Tonga to Vanuatu, Anne and Jeff opened another extraordinary handmade card from students of the Round Hill Elementary School. This one was made by Grace. Thank you so much Grace. We love you!

8. Anne and Flat Mr. Davis open a hand made card made by a kind student from Round Hill Elementary School. Thank you! We love it!

9. Bill harvested fresh vegetables from Joyful’s cockpit nets.

10. Eating lunch underway in 18 knots of wind can be challenging. So one way is to serve tacos in a paper towel closed with a clothes pin It worked well, and Joyful was happy…no mess.

11. Crewmember Bill was warm and protected in his foul weather gear. The temperature did become lower, especially around midnight and beyond.

12. Flat Mr. Davis is at the helm steering Joyful toward her next landfall of Vanuatu. Joyful uses electronic charts as well as traditional paper charts for the whole world.

13. Colors of the sky at sunset and sunrise are usually unbeleivably beautiful, as is the sea, which reflects the light!

14. Another amazing sunset the Good Lord gave Joyful on this passage to Vanuatu.

16. With high wind and rough seas, Flat Mr. Davis and Anne start their three and a half hour long night watch.

17. Flat Mr. Davis and Anne enjoy a breakfast of Weet-Bix with strawberry jam on top.

18. Flat Mr. Davis and Anne display Joyful’s new number Jimmy Cornell assigned her for the Blue Planet Odyssey. He gave all the boats a new number. Joyful’s old number was 20.

19. Almost every day at sea, Flat Mr. Davis and Anne walk Joyful’s decks inspecting everything for chafe, wear, breakage, or other difficulties. This activity helps keep Joyful a joyful boat. Here, they are checking one of the rigging cables.

20. Flat Mr. Davis is very happy that Anne, while on the foredeck, is clipping her safety harness tether onto Joyful’s portside jackstay, which is to help keep a sailor with the boat. Flat Mr. Davis is attached to Anne’s jacket and feels very secure.

21. Flat Mr. Davis and Anne inspect everything on Joyful’s boom. The boom brake is the black device which slows the boom down on a gybe. It’s a good safety device in case of an accidental gybe.

22. Flat Mr. Davis and Anne inspect Joyful’s mainsail sheet traveler. They like what they see…no chafing!

23. Flat Mr. Davis checks to see if Anne is hanking her safety harness tether to Joyful’s starboard jackstay. He is motivated to check because his safety harness tether is connected to Anne’s foul weather jacket.

24. Flat Mr. Davis checks to see if the stanchions are securily fastened on Joyful’s decks. They hold the life lines onto the boat.

25. Flat Mr. Davis and Anne inspect the top of the mast, viewed from Joyful’s deck. Flat Mr. Davis does not want to go to the top of the mast while at sea. He might miss dessert.

26. Flat Mr. Davis inspects the jib. With the Solent rig, Joyful’s genoa foresail is only a few inches foreward of the jib. It is quite a strong rig.

27. Flat Mr. Davis is always helpful aboard Joyful and on land. Here he is checking the lashings which secure the lightweight sail onto Joyful’s foredeck when it is not being used. He proclaimed it is well secured.

28. Up on the port bow, Flat Mr. Davis told Anne that the two foresails’ roller furling devices appear to be in good shape, and the two bow anchors were well secured.

29. Flat Mr. Davis is checking the jib sheet traveler. Flat Mr. Davis is always harnessed on with a tether, like everyone else on Joyful while on deck or in the cockpit underway. That way, he will not end up swimming with the fish!

30. Flat Mr. Davis – One morning on passage to Vanuatu, when Flat Mr. Davis and Anne walked the decks checking Joyful for wear and tear, he discovered a small SQUID, which one of the many sea birds dropped as they flew around Joyful during the night.

31. Flat Mr. Davis is checking to see if the boom brake connection is good and strong. He announced that it appeared to be secure.

32. Flat Mr. Davis is inspecting the lashings securing Joyful’s spare diesel cans onto her deck. Sometimes on long ocean passages that have days without wind, Joyful has to use her engine, and she never wants to run out of fuel. So these are helpful.

33. Flat Mr. Davis inspects Joyful’s man overboard safety devices each day. The horseshoe life preserver is attached to a strobe light, a small drogue, and a 15 foot tall floating pole with a man overboard flag at the top.  Each person on board also wears a life jacket with a personal locator beacon, a man overboard alarm, and a strobe light.

34. Flat Mr. Davis is showing the 15 foot tall floating man overboard pole. When deployed, the flag comes out of the protective sock, and helps to mark the area in the sea where the man overboard may be found.

35. Flat Mr. Davis is making sure Joyful’s American ensign is still securely lashed to the flag staff. That is one of his favorite daily duties on Joyful since he is a patriotic citizen of the good old US of A!

36. Flat Mr. Davis likes using Joyful’s ship’s compass. It has a light, which we turn on at sundown while underway.

37. On passage from Tonga to Vanuatu, Flat Mr. Davis & Anne hoisted the Fiji courtesy flag as Joyful sailed through Fijian waters. Joyful did not stop in Fiji because she wanted to catch up with the BPO fleet, so the yellow Q flag was not needed with the Fiji flag.

38. On this passage from Tonga to Vanuatu, Joyful crossed the 180th meridian, the International Date Line!!!  We had a party to celebrate!

39. The Fiji courtesy flag and the MaiKai Yacht Club of Bora Bora pennant fly straight out in the strong winds.

40. The surface of the sea is always changing. It will tell you lots of things, like the approximate speed and direction of the wind.

41. The texture, shape, and color of the sea was always changing. It was fascinating.

42. A beautiful breaking wave following Joyful.

43. Flat Mr. Davis noticed that sometimes the sea splashed a wave near and onto Joyful.

44. Joyful’s decks stayed dry most of the time. Joyful liked it and did well.

45. Sometimes the sea splashed onto Joyful’s decks

46. The beautiful sunset reflected off of Joyful’s deck.

47. When a wave approached Joyful’s port quarter, it lifted Joyful smoothly upward, and came out from under her to her starboard beam, as seen in this photo. It was fun to watch!

48. We reefed Joyful’s sails down during strong winds. The wind increased to gale force for some days. Joyful liked it and did well.

49. Joyful’s Hydrovane wind steering device performed well. It saved wear and tear on the person on watch, and electrical power that would have been necessary for the autohelm to steer the boat.

50. Flat Mr. Davis and Anne took down the Fiji courtesy flag in preparation for the Vanuatu courtesy flag.

51. God always gave us His hedge of protection during lively seas such as these, as well as in calm seas.

52. A sunset view in rough seas.

53. Here, Joyful is only one day’s sail away from the landfall of Vanuatu. The winds are giving her a fresh, lively sail on this last day of the passage.

54. Land Ho! Vanuatu Ho! Seeing your destination on the horizon is always a thrill.

55. Flat Mr. Davis and Anne hoist the Republic of Vanuatu courtesy flag and the yellow Q flag as Joyful sails into Vanuatu national waters.

56. Joyful is reefed down for the evening at sea in brusk winds. Her Vanuatu courtesy flag flies above the yellow Q flag which asks for requesting free pratique, and the MaiKai Yacht Club burgee flies on the port flag halyard.

57. Joyful’s ensign greets the sunrise only minutes from the landfall of Vanuatu.

58. Flat Mr. Davis found a flying fish that landed on Joyful’s deck in the morning we sailed into Vanuatu.

59.  Joyful sailed up to the island and anchored at the Vanuatu customs anchorage before clearing customs. We had to stay there overnight, then we immediately cleared customs the next morning.  We thanked God for a safe and enjoyable passage!

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