When a great ship asks for deeper water.

Harlingen’s harbour is usually half-empty on normal days. There are a few tall ships standing alone in water and many private modern yachts. Suddenly, among them you can notice an unusual vessel that is very different from other ships. This is de Witte Swaen (the White Swan) a reconstruction of a ship of the XVI century. On this ship the famous Dutch Arctic explorer Willem Barentsz sailed along the Arctic sea route. He tried to find the shortest way to travel to India. However, his ship was stuck in the ice off the coast of Novaya Zemlya and he stayed there with his crew for nine long months. The way back was difficult and tough. The crew of Barentsz returned back, but their captain died from scurvy. Therefore, the Barents Sea was named in his memory.

I remember very well the day when I saw this vessel for the first time in Harlingen, a little town in the northern Netherlands, in the province of Friesland on the coast of the Wadden Sea. At that time it was just beginning to be built. In 2013, it was only the skeleton of the ship.

With Gerald de Weerdt, project leader of the Willem Barentsz ship. Photo Onno Falkena, 2013.

However, a team of enthusiasts completed this job and the vessel was baptised and launched into the water in October 2019.

The story of this unique trip and the ship is represented in a little museum in the Harlingen harbour. The name the Witte Swaen was for a long time unknown. It travelled to Novaya Zemlya and stayed there.

Willem Barentsz reached Novaya Zemlya on 17 July 1596. He tried to avoid becoming entrapped in the surrounding ice but their ship became stuck within the many icebergs and floes. His crew of 16 man was forced to spend the winter on Novaya Zemlya. The crew used driftwood and lumber from the ship to build a 7.8×5.5-metre lodge, which they called Het Behouden Huys (The Saved House). There was enough food for the first time. The ship bore salted beef, butter, cheese, bread, barley, peas, beans, groats, flour, oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, beer, wine, brandy, hardtack, smoked bacon, ham and fish.

Today it is hard to believe that on such a small vessel it was possible to make such a difficult journey through the cold sea ice of the harsh Arctic environment.

For ten years the team worked on the construction of the Witte Swaen, using the XVIth century ship building techniques. The ship quickly became the main tourist attraction of Harlingen.

Although last November 2021 the vessel made a test voyage on the Wadden Sea for the first time, it turned out that the Witte Swaen may not participate in the Tall Ships Races 2022 in Harlingen https://harlingensail.com. It’s very frustrating for the team of enthusiasts. It is because of the bureaucratic rules of the Dutch government, which do not recognise the replica of the Witte Swaen to be safe for navigation at sea.
The team originally planned to sail on the Witte Swaen to Novaya Zemlya, repeating the original Barentsz’s route. But this is not possible nowadays, especially during the present time of geopolitical situation in the world.

Read more here: https://www.omropfryslan.nl/fy/nijs/1151850/replikaskip-de-witte-swaen-kin-mooglik-net-farre-mei-de-tall-ships-races

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