May 18th, 1929-
Today must be marked as a red-letter day in both scientific journals and the ship’s log, for we have made observations the likes of which I am convinced are unprecedented in modern scientific literature. Today is of such importance as the Carnegie, under my instruction, has made landfall. We have made landfall only a hundred leagues from the Pacific Pole of inaccessibility where, I believe, there has been no real land for over twenty million years.
I fear that I am getting ahead of myself in my excitement, and lest my narrative become unclear I must return to the beginning. This morning, I awoke at the customary hour of seven o’clock ship’s time, and took a light breakfast to prepare myself for what I expected to be a long day of radar sounding and sample dredging. It was as I finished my meal that a shout reached my ears from the first mate. He, (a young promising officer by the name of James Ault, of the influential Boston Aults), had scanned the horizon from the rigging as he climbed it. Looking North-North-West, on a bearing of 030, he noticed a strange cloud drifting. Since we left port we had, of course, been seeing the usual cirrus formations scattered high above in the trade winds, but since Bermuda had disappeared over the edge of the world our meteorologist hadn’t spotted anything low-level (save for that chance squall we encountered on the 8th). Ault was calling for the meteorologist as he had seen an unusual cloud, and I swung the boat towards the mystery and watched it crawl over the horizon. Not only did it carry a resemblance to the familiar cumulus clouds of land-locked weather systems, but it looked to be drifting away from a specific area of ocean north of us. Our science officers put the day’s goals on hold at the sight of it, and the meteorologist’s eyes sparkled with excitement. A chubby man, he said that he had last seen something like this when he’d watched the ash cloud of the Popocatépetl eruption of 1920 drift up past his summer home in Baja. His announcement sent the geologists flying into a frenzy at the thought of such a large event in such a supposedly uninteresting region. Seeing the dark shape, as if laden with something strange, I must admit that I was also a little curious as to the origin of such a thing.
The coloration change was first noticed by a sailor, a strong French-Canadian by the name of Emile. He was known among his friends for his incredible eyesight, and there must have been some truth in it as he spotted with ease what I could scarcely make out even with the aid of the spyglass. Ahead, a slick stain upon the horizon lay spread out like a cancer on the horizon. It carried what I can only describe as a strange ability to make me, for the first time since my father contracted cholera fear death truly, like a pit inside of me. Had I not been buoyed by the spirits of my comrades and incentivized by the promise of scientific renown and discovery, I should have liked to have turned the schooner around towards known seas. I hope only that the scholars who read my account judge me less harshly than I currently judge myself for such superstition.
Sailing onward at an impressive rate, that tumour of bleak gray only grew as it warped across the friendly face of the sea. Whispering naturalists hypothesized and criticized as to what it was- an oil spill from some unknown vent, a vast algal mat like those organisms found in the Sargasso Sea, or even a huge and treacherous sandbank submerged just beneath the still waters. It was only at last when the prow of the Carnegie penetrated the spreading ink stain that the truth assuaged their confusion. Spread across the surface of the water were little pumice stones, possibly covering an area over 30 miles in length, although knowing the size was difficult given the ways the current drew the patch. The discovery sent the geologists aboard into a fit of near religious excitement, and they eagerly used a fine net to scoop up the tiny rocks. They said that all the signs pointed towards a huge volcanic event mere hours ago and that, in the center of an ocean plain that averaged three miles deep, this could be the formation of a new volcanic hot spot.
The navigator set about calculating where and when the cloud which still drifted and the patch of rock would have been in the same place. He told me that, whatever happened, likely happened only seven hours ago, at about four in the morning. He told me the coordinates, which were proven accurate, and I shall make sure to include them in the full scientific write-up. I’m not sure any of us were surprised to see the black smudge of rock that clung to the sea ahead of us. As we came closer, we saw above its obsidian coils and shores darkly meandering spires of smoke and gas, venting from holes in the pitted stone and the ocean around it. From the center, hidden in part by the peaks and hills around it, I saw a thin yet billowing outflow of steam. A stray gust sent a rancid stench of rotting fish and eggs towards us, and as I lifted the brass telescope to my eyes, I felt a bump on the ship’s hull.
Fearing that, in our moment of scientific triumph, we had neglected some small outcrop or sand bar, I rushed to the starboard to see what we had hit. There, leaving a trail of briny oils and muck across the skin of the water, floated a huge corpse. A mother sperm whale and its young child, bleached of skin and bloated hugely with funereal gases, had been killed by some out-gassing of the island. Although I had previously worked aboard a whaling vessel, the sight of the pair affected me greatly and inspired the same fear as had attacked me before. The biologists, no doubt, should have liked to have sampled the beasts, but the first mate insisted that we hurry on to the terra incognita ahead of us. I watched briefly to see the two organic icebergs recede, before focusing once more on the growing spur of minerals that took up more and more of our view.
As we neared the island, I espied a small, dark cove of volcanic rock to moor upon. I nominate that this beach, on the south-east coast of the outcrop, be named “Carnegie Bay” in honor of our voyage. The name of the island is, of course, up to the discretion of the greater geographical minds of the world to decide upon. I dropped anchor at last at 1:47 pm and, at 2:30, from the launch Foxhound, I set foot upon the still warm stone.
I and the men drew the small boat in close to the shore, before mooring the second launch to the pitted rock. Soon enough, the geographers were ranging across the island, ecstatic geologists following as they scrambled to take note of each new rock and structure on the landmass. The biologically minded at first seemed unexcited by the island, barren as it was, but as we started searching the land they began to note organisms that, caught by the chance upheaval of the volcanic structure, had been brought to the surface and killed. On some of the older, manganese-encrusted rocks, octocorals and crinoids had somehow survived the violence and been raised upwards near intact. A colossal brotulid fish of an unknown, potentially undescribed species was spotted perched atop a hill. Polychaete worms were found in several crevices, and the toothed cadaver of a juvenile six-gill shark was seen, but it proved too heavy to bring back to the Bay. As I watch, more fish float to the surface, killed perhaps by some toxic element spewed into the water.
The island possesses the general layout of a volcanic caldera. Although not a geologist, and the scientists are still deliberating, I would make a guess that the fresh walls and slopes of the caldera are rhyolithic in origin, potentially glazed with a layer of obsidian that formed as the deep ocean cooled it. In the center lies a sulphurous, brackish lake. From its green centre the smoke I saw earlier still pours forth and, while we are at the moment camped up wind of the pool, I fear for the health of my men and I should the fumes overcome us in the night.
I have ordered all crew, including the scientists, to sleep at sun down. The sailors are currently setting up the tents, augmented in part by scavenged sail canvas from the ship, which first mate Ault had the sense to bring.
I anticipate no trouble from our stay upon this dark, yet exciting land.