It is a well known fact that I am never happier than when gadding about near the coast and whenever I get the chance, I like to disappear to spend some time beside the sea. A becalmed ocean is a place of tranquillity, the mightiest body of water as calm as a millpond and yet, when that calm surface is disturbed by storms, many a vessel can be lost beneath the waves.
One such vessel was the Vrouw Maria, a Dutch merchant ship under the command of Captain Raymund Lourens. Her hold full of merchant cargo and, crucially, valuable artworks including items from the collection of Catherine the Great, she set sail from Amsterdam on 5th September 1771 but was destined never to make her intended destination of St Petersburg.
As Autumn wore on and conditions at sea worsened, a storm on 3rd October drove her aground not once but twice, with the rudder of the Vrouw Maria damaged beyond repair. As water poured into the stricken ship, efforts went on through the night to save the stricken ship but by dawn all hope was lost and Lourens gave the order to abandon her.
Mercifully the crew all escaped the vessel and a passing boat took them on board and attempted to save the Vrouw Maria. With coffee beans from the cargo hold clumping and clogging her pump, there was nothing that could be done and by the afternoon of 9th October, the Vrouw Maria had disappeared beneath the waves around the island of Jurmo. When she went down she took her priceless cargo with her, consigning it to what seemed to be an eternity at the bottom of the sea.
Over two centuries later the wreck of the Vrouw Maria was discovered in 1999; so far the cargo has not been disturbed but when that day comes, I cannot wait to see the state of Catherine the Great's collection!