At present, Duyfken's crew are sailing the 20 metre, Fremantle-built sailing ship from Sydney to Jakarta, then across the Indian Ocean to Sri Lanka, then Mauritius and South Africa before sailing north through the Atlantic Ocean to the Netherlands. Not since the spice trading days of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) more than 300 years ago has such a voyage been attempted.

The VOC used the sailing ship Duyfken (an old Dutch word meaning little dove) from the early years of the 17th century to travel to Dutch East India (now Indonesia). The relatively small seaworthy ship was built around 1595. After its second long travel to Asia, skipper Willem Janszoon received orders to discover the unknown area east of the island Banda in 1605, along the south coast of New Guinea. In search of gold, Janszoon, his assistant Jan Roosengijn, and their crew explored the region, but all they found was Cape York in 1606. What they did not realize at the time was that this actually was the coast of a giant new continent, later called Australia.

The Duyfken therefore made the first historically recorded voyage to Australia.

The crew put 300 km of newly discovered coasts on the map. Geographically, at this moment all inhabited continents of the world had been discovered.

In the years before its historical voyage, Duyfken had participated in the battle that caused an intersection in spice trade history: the Dutch beat the Portuguese in 1601, ending the monopoly of their and the Spanish fleets in Far Asian spice trade. In 1607, Duyfken possibly made a second eastbound journey to Australia. In 1608, a five-hour battle with a Spanish fleet and an attempt to capture the fortress of Taffaso, damaged the ship immensely. Although the VOC attempted to put the ship back together at Ternate, they eventually had to draw the conclusion that the bottom of Duyfken was not repairable.

As can be read in the opening lines of this write-up, a replica of Duyfken was built in Australia in 1997. To mark the 400th birthday of the VOC, the ship started the long voyage to the Netherlands. It’s not easy for the crew, as the captain’s log witnesses:

I really cannot accurately say what the weather will do and so have decided to take the straight course again, as we come closer we will be influenced more and more by the current so we will benefit from that. All through the afternoon the wind begins to drop out on us, the clouds build and the rain begins to come back down again. It makes me feel tense and uncomfortable as we move to an area that I feel will be the hardest part of the voyage. I am uncomfortably aware of my responsibilities to the people aboard, the vessel and the voyage and do not want to have the vessel caught out in a strong blow. The rain is pouring down and we are all hot and very wet by the time the breeze settles down. Then of course it is my watch, as I take over we brace around again and for the next two hours it is constant trimming of yards and sails.

The current journey as well as its history can be viewed online at It is extremely fashionable nowadays to rebuild an historic ship. The Dutch, shipbuilders par excellence, built replicas of various 17th and 18th century ships, such as De 7 Provinciën (visit the ship in Lelystad), Stad Amsterdam (Amsterdam), Statenjacht (Utrecht) and De Delft (Rotterdam). Other famous old replicas include the Hermione, the Mary Rose, the Endeavour, the Mayflower and the Jeanie Johnston.

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