CHAPTER III. THE PICTURESQUE COAST OP KAMCHATKA - ARRIVAL IN PETROPAVLOVSK
BRIG "OLGA," AT SEA, 200 MILES FROM KAMCHATKA.
August 17, 1865.
Our voyage is at last drawing to a close, and after seven long weeks of cold, rainy, rough weather our eyes are soon to be gladdened again by the sight of land, and never was it more welcome to weary mariner than it will be to us. Even as I write, the sound of scraping and scrubbing is heard on deck, and proclaims our nearness to land. They are dressing the vessel to go once more into society. We were only 255 miles from the Kamchatkan seaport of Petropavlovsk (pet-ro-pav'-lovsk) last night, and if this favourable breeze holds we expect to reach there to-morrow noon. It has fallen almost to a dead calm, however, this morning, so that we may be delayed until Saturday.
AT SEA, OFF THE COAST OF KAMCHATKA.
Friday, August 18, 1865.
We have a fine breeze this morning; and the brig, under every stitch of canvas that will draw, is staggering through the seas enveloped in a dense fog, through which even her topgallant sails show mistily. Should the wind continue and the fog be dissipated we may hope to see land tonight.
I have just come down from the topgallant yard, where for the last three hours I have been clinging uncomfortably to the backstays, watching for land, and swinging back and forth through the fog in the arc of a great circle as the vessel rolled lazily to the seas. We cannot discern any object at a distance of three ships' lengths, although the sky is evidently cloudless. Great numbers of gulls, boobies, puffin, fish-hawks, and solan-geese surround the ship, and the water is full of drifting medusae.
Half an hour ago the fog began to lift, and at 11.40 the captain, who had been sweeping the horizon with a glass, shouted cheerily, "Land ho! Land ho! Hurrah!" and the cry was echoed simultaneously from stem to stern, and from the galley to the topgallant yard. Bush, Mahood, and the Major started at a run for the forecastle; the little humpbacked steward rushed frantically out of the galley with his hands all dough, and climbed up on the bulwarks; the sailors ran into the rigging, and only the man at the wheel retained his self-possession. Away ahead, drawn in faint luminous outlines above the horizon, appeared two high conical peaks, so distant that nothing but the white snow in their deep ravines could be seen, and so faint that they could hardly be distinguished from the blue sky beyond. They were the mountains of Villuchinski (vil-loo'-chin-ski) and Avacha (ah-vah'-chah), on the Kamchatkan coast, fully a hundred miles away. The Major looked at them through a glass long and eagerly, and then waving his hand proudly toward them, turned to us, and said with a burst of patriotic enthusiasm, "You see before you my country - the great Russian Empire!" and then as the fog drifted down again upon the ship, he dropped suddenly from his declamatory style, and with a look of disgust exclaimed, "Chort znaiet shto etta takoi [the Devil only knows what it means] - it is a curious thing! fog, fog, nothing but fog!"
In five minutes the last vestige of "the great Russian Empire" had disappeared, and we went below to dinner in a state of joyful excitement, which can never be imagined by one who has not been forty-six days at sea in the North Pacific.
We have just been favoured with another view of the land. Half an hour ago I could see from the topgallant yard, where I was posted, that the fog was beginning to break away, and in a moment it rose slowly like a huge grey curtain, unveiling the sea and the deep-blue sky, letting in a flood of rosy light from the sinking sun, and revealing a picture of wonderful beauty. Before us, stretching for a hundred and fifty miles to the north and south, lay the grand coast-line of Kamchatka, rising abruptly in great purple promontories out of the blue sparkling sea, flecked here with white clouds and shreds of fleecy mist, deepening in places into a soft quivering blue, and sweeping backward and upward into the pure white snow of the higher peaks. Two active volcanoes, 10,000 and 16,000 feet in height, rose above the confused jagged ranges of the lower mountains, piercing the blue sky with sharp white triangles of eternal snow, and drawing the purple shadows of evening around their feet. The high bold coast did not appear, in that clear atmosphere, to be fifteen miles away, and it seemed to have risen suddenly like a beautiful mirage out of the sea. In less than five minutes the grey curtain of mist dropped slowly down again over the magnificent picture, and it faded gradually from sight, leaving us almost in doubt whether it had been a reality, or only a bright deceptive vision. We are enveloped now, as we have been nearly all day, in a thick clammy fog.
HARBOUR OP PETROPAVLOVSK, KAMCHATKA.
August 19, 1865.