Yesterday the ‘Closing in on the Fortuyn’ project started and in the coming weeks you can read all about the search for the Fortuyn on this blog! The Fortuyn is a Dutch East India Company ship that was last seen in January 1724 at the Cape of Good Hope on its way to Batavia (nowadays Jakarta) in the East Indies. The project is a collaboration between Wreck Check Inc., the Maritime Programme of the Cultural Heritage Agency, the Dutch Embassy in Canberra, the Silent World Foundation, Parks Australia, the Western Australian Museum and the Department of Environment.
A team of international archaeologists will be searching for the remains of the VOC ship the Fortuyn in Australia on the Christmas and Cocos Keeling Islands. My name is Robert de Hoop, I’m a maritime archaeology student and I am very lucky and proud to join this experienced team on this amazing project. The next three weeks I will be writing every other day about my experiences here and how the search is progressing. For me it is an amazing opportunity to get experience in the maritime field, not only in diving but also with the other surveying techniques that will be used. The diving will be completely different than what I am used to with amazing visibility under water and potentially somewhat bigger animals (sharks..). In the next couple of blogs, I will introduce also the other five members of the team.
The reason that the search takes place on the Christmas and Cocos Keeling Islands is because historical research, done by the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands and the University of Leiden (by Martijn Manders and Pablo Boorsma) and Australian archaeologists, has indicated that the Fortuyn may have been wrecked on the coast of Christmas and/or Cocos (Keeling) Islands. The historical research suggested that the south and west coasts of either location are the most likely places of wrecking. During the monsoon season, Dutch skippers were directed to take the western route past Christmas and the Cocos Islands, rather than the eastern route past the Australian continent.
In 2015 the Wreck Check team searched the seabed around the Christmas and Cocos Keeling Islands with a magnetometer. A magnetometer records differences in the earth’s magnetic field. Steel or iron material, will cause distortions in the field, creating anomalies. A magnetometer will detect a steel hulled vessel relatively easily, but the Fortuyn has a wooden hull and rather than one enormous reading, the result may be a number of small, scattered readings. This reading could have been caused for instance by the 36 cannons and the approximately 8 anchors that were on board. Once an anomaly was observed the position of the boat was recorded using GPS. This year the team is going back to check these anomalies. The southern part of the island will be redone with a higher resolution magnetometer and then spots will be chosen where a diving survey will take place. Post fieldwork analysis has also revealed a number of anomalies on Cocos (Keeling) Islands that require further investigation. The anomalies, particularly the one on the west side of South Point, fit with the identified wrecking profile, and require ground-truthing to ascertain whether the signal variations were caused by cultural features or geology.
Yesterday the team arrived on Christmas island, unpacked and settled in. Today we’ve been setting up, going over safety and making a plan for the coming days. Together with Graeme Henderson, from Wreck Check, I started on translating some Dutch historical texts to English, which talk about other ships that wrecked near or on Christmas Island. We do this because there is a chance that we will run into other wrecks and the team wants to have a nice overview of all the possible shipwrecks and their potential locations. More on these other wrecks will follow in another blog. In the afternoon we tested the magnetometer on the Eidsvold. This is a World War II cargo wreck made of metal, so an ideal site to check the magnetometer. The next two days we will spend doing a couple of transects on the south and west coast of Christmas Island to find the best spots where we will be doing diver surveys. We hope you check back in the coming days to meet the team and follow the search!
Robert de Hoop