Exploring expedition history with the Witte Swaen project
During lockdown, many of our expedition guides are making use of the extra time by preparing new lectures for the Arctic and Antarctic travel seasons to come.
Rustyn Mesdag and Tom van Hoof, for example, have capitalized on the relaxed conditions in the Netherlands by visiting a wharf in Harlingen where a special project is taking place: Under the supervision of marine archaeologist Gerald de Weerdt, volunteers are building a genuine replica of the ship 16th-century Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz used on his famous (and final) expedition.
De Witte Swaen, or the White Swan, was the vessel on which Barentsz discovered the Arctic archipelago of Spitsbergen, now also known as Svalbard, as well as Bear Island. He then sailed onward to the Russian archipelago of Nova Zembla, where he and his crew overwintered in 1596 and Barentsz ultimately died.
Many of the techniques shipwrights used to build vessels like De Witte Swaen are now long outdated. But after years of studying 16th-century shipwrecks, combing through old journals, and analyzing a piece of the wreck discovered on Nova Zembla, de Weerdt and his team have managed to get a solid idea how De Witte Swaen once looked.
Not only that, de Weerdt is rebuilding the vessel in the same manner used by shipwrights of 16th-century Holland. And after years of work, his team is planning to finish the ship by year’s end.
Eventually, de Weerdt and his team want to retrace Barentsz’s voyage by sailing the vessel to Spitsbergen and Nova Zembla. Maybe this means one of our own expedition ships will one day spot this famous vessel during an Arctic cruise!
Whatever the case, you’ll probably hear more about this remarkable project as well as Barentsz’s expeditions on board our vessels. And if you’d like to learn more about the project right now, please visit the project website for details on this ongoing labor of love.
Photos by Rustyn Mesdag and Tom van Hoof.