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.

  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.

  11 A.M.

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.

  4 P.M.

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.

  August 19, 1865.

At dark last night we were distant, as we supposed, about fifteen miles from Cape Povorotnoi (po-vo-rote'-noi) and as the fog had closed in again denser than ever, the captain dared not venture any nearer. The ship was accordingly put about, and we stood off and on all night, waiting for sunrise and a clear atmosphere, to enable us to approach the coast in safety. At five o'clock I was on deck. The fog was colder and denser than ever, and out of it rolled the white-capped waves raised by a fresh south-easterly breeze. Shortly before six o'clock it began to grow light, the brig was headed for the land, and under foresail, jib, and topsails, began to forge steadily through the water. The captain, glass in hand, anxiously paced the quarterdeck, ever and anon reconnoitring the horizon, and casting a glance up to windward to see if there were any prospect of better weather. Several times he was upon the point of putting the ship about, fearing to run on a lee shore in that impenetrable mist; but it finally lightened up, the fog disappeared, and the horizon line came out clear and distinct. To our utter astonishment, not a foot of land could be seen in any direction! The long range of blue mountains which had seemed the previous night to be within an hour's sail - the lofty snowy peaks - the deep gorges and the bold headlands, had all

  " - melted into thin air, 
  Leaving not a rack behind."

There was nothing to indicate the existence of land within a thousand miles, save the number and variety of the birds that wheeled curiously around our wake, or flew away with a spattering noise from under our bows. Many were the theories which were suggested to account for the sudden disappearance of the high bold land. The captain attempted to explain it by the supposition that a strong current, sweeping off shore, had during the night carried us away to the south-east. Bush accused the mate of being asleep on his watch, and letting the ship run over the land, while the mate declared solemnly that he did not believe that there had been any land there at all; that it was only a mirage. The Major said it was "paganni" (abominable) and "a curious thing," but did not volunteer any solution of the problem. So there we were.

We had a fine leading wind from the south-east, and were now going through the water at the rate of seven knots. Eight o'clock, nine o'clock, ten o'clock, and still no appearance of land, although we had made since daylight more than thirty miles. At eleven o'clock, however, the horizon gradually darkened, and all at once a bold headland, terminating in a precipitous cliff, loomed up out of a thin mist at a distance of only four miles. All was at once excitement. The topgallant sails were clewed up to reduce the vessel's speed, and her course was changed so that we swept round in a curve broadside to the coast, about three miles distant. The mountain peaks, by which we might have ascertained our position, were hidden by the clouds and fog, and it was no easy matter to ascertain exactly where we were.

Away to the left, dimly defined in the mist, were two or three more high blue headlands, but what they were, and where the harbour of Petropavlovsk might be, were questions that no one could answer. The captain brought his charts, compass, and drawing instruments on deck, laid them on the cabin skylight, and began taking the bearings of the different headlands, while we eagerly scanned the shore with glasses, and gave free expressions to our several opinions as to our situation. The Russian chart which the captain had of the coast was fortunately a good one, and he soon determined our position, and the names of the headlands first seen. We were just north of Cape Povorotnoi, about nine miles south of the entrance of Avacha Bay. The yards were now squared, and we went off on the new tack before a steady breeze from the south-east. In less than an hour we sighted the high isolated rocks known as the "Three Brothers," passed a rocky precipitous island, surrounded by clouds of shrieking gulls and parrot-billed ducks, and by two o'clock were off "the heads" of Avacha Bay, on which is situated the village of Petropavlovsk. The scenery at the entrance more than equalled our highest anticipations. Green grassy valleys stretched away from openings in the rocky coast until they were lost in the distant mountains; the rounded bluffs were covered with clumps of yellow birch and thickets of dark-green chaparral; patches of flowers could be seen on the warm sheltered slopes of the hills; and as we passed close under the lighthouse bluff, Bush shouted joyously, "Hurrah, there's clover!" "Clover!" exclaimed the captain contemptuously, "there ain't any clover in the Ar'tic Regions!" "How do you know, you've never been there," retorted Bush caustically; "it looks like clover, and" - looking through a glass - "it is clover"; and his face lighted up as if the discovery of clover had relieved his mind of a great deal of anxiety as to the severity of the Kamchatkan climate. It was a sort of vegetable exponent of temperature, and out of a little patch of clover, Bush's imagination developed, in a style undreamt of by Darwin, the whole luxuriant flora of the temperate zone.

The very name of Kamchatka had always been associated in our minds with everything barren and inhospitable, and we did not entertain for a moment the thought that such a country could afford beautiful scenery and luxuriant vegetation. In fact, with us all it was a mooted question whether anything more than mosses, lichens, and perhaps a little grass maintained the unequal struggle for existence in that frozen clime. It may be imagined with what delight and surprise we looked upon green hills covered with trees and verdant thickets; upon valleys white with clover and diversified with little groves of silver-barked birch, and even the rocks nodding with wild roses and columbine, which had taken root in their clefts as if nature strove to hide with a garment of flowers the evidences of past convulsions.

Just before three o'clock we came in sight of the village of Petropavlovsk - a little cluster of red-roofed and bark-thatched log houses; a Greek church of curious architecture, with a green dome; a strip of beach, a half-ruined wharf, two whale-boats, and the dismantled wreck of a half-sunken vessel. High green hills swept in a great semicircle of foliage around the little village, and almost shut in the quiet pond-like harbour - an inlet of Avacha Bay - on which it was situated. Under foresail and maintopsail we glided silently under the shadow of the encircling hills into this landlocked mill-pond, and within a stone's throw of the nearest house the sails were suddenly clewed up, and with a quivering of the ship and a rattle of chain cable our anchor dropped into the soil of Asia.