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Willem Ysbrandtszoon Bontekoe (June 2, 1587-1657) was a skipper in the Dutch East India Company (VOC), who made only one voyage for the company (1618-1625). He became widely known because of the journal of his adventures that was published in 1646 under the title Journael ofte gedenckwaerdige beschrijvinge van de Oost-Indische reyse van Willem Ysbrantsz. Bontekoe van Hoorn, begrijpende veel wonderlijcke en gevaerlijcke saecken hem daer in wedervaren ("Journal or memorable description of the East Indian voyage of Willem Bontekoe from Hoorn, including many remarkable and dangerous things that happened to him there").
Bontekoe was born in Hoorn in Holland. In 1607, at the age of twenty, Bontekoe succeeded his father as captain of the ship Bontekoe. Ten years later, in 1617, the ship was robbed and Bontekoe ended up at a slave market. He was bought free, but his ship was lost.
In 1618 Bontekoe enlisted in the service of the Dutch East India Company. On a voyage to Java he suffered a ship wreck and continued in a lifeboat. After a grueling journey, including an attack by hostile natives on Sumatra, they reached Batavia on Java. Bontekoe was given a new command and an order to harass the Chinese coast.
In 1625 Bontekoe returned to Holland. After his return, Bontekoe settled down in Hoorn to live a quiet life. On March 1, 1626, at the age of 38, Bontekoe married Eeltje Bruijnes.
Bontekoe might have been forgotten had he not written his journal (see above). This book is about his voyage with the Nieuw Hoorn, the ship wreck, the adventurous voyage to Java in life boats, and his subsequent years of service in East-Asia. It is illustrated with etchings, and was a bestseller in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Bontekoe set out from Texel on December 28, 1618 as skipper of the Nieuw Hoorn ("New Hoorn"), an East Indiaman (i.e. an armed merchant ship). His destination was the town of Bantam on Java. The merchant Hein Rol had formally the upper command.
After passing the coast of Brazil, at the end of May 1619 the ship passed Cape Hope, where it did not stop due to the weather. Instead it stayed 21 dagen in Réunion and 9 days at Île Sainte-Marie near the coast of Madagascar. It departed from there on 8 September. The ship sailed alone through the Indian Ocean. Until then, of the 216 crew members 17 had died, so there were 189.
A fire, caused by a shipmate accidentally setting fire to a cask of brandy, caused the gunpowder magazine to explode and sink the ship. Of the 119 still on the ship only two survived, including Bontekoe, but he was wounded. There were 70 in two life boats, so 72 survived. They continued in the two boats; later they went on together in one. Sails where made from the shirts of the crew. They were hungry and thirsty; some drank seawater or urine. Bontekoe did the latter too, until it became too concentrated. Sometimes there was relief by being able to catch birds and flying fish, and by rain supplying drinking water. The hunger became so severe again that the crew decided to soon kill the ship boys. Bontekoe writes that he was against that, and that they agreed that they would wait three more days. Just in time, 13 days after the ship wreck, they reached land where they could eat coconuts. It was an island in the Sunda Strait, 15 miles off Sumatra.
They went on to Sumatra, where they encountered locals from whom they could first buy food, but who later attacked them. Eleven crew members were killed, and four had to be abandoned, they had probably also been killed.
The 57 survivors encountered a Dutch fleet of 23 ships near Java under the command of Frederik de Houtman, which saved them from going to the now hostile Bantam. Divided over the ships they reached Batavia on Java, where Bontekoe and Rol were received by Jan Pieterszoon Coen, who gave Bontekoe a new command and an order to harass the Chinese coast.