The wooden sailing ship Curacao was launched from the Amsterdam Naval Dockyard in 1704 for the Dutch navy. She measured 145.0′ x 37.8′
On 25th March, 1729 the Dutch Admiralty received a request from the Dutch East Indiaman Company to send out two ships to meet a returning VOC fleet of eleven ships which had left Batavia in October 1728 and to escort them across the North Sea. The Admiralty had established a fleet of a number of ships, known as ‘kruissenden schepen’ for the very purpose of safely escorting ‘retour-schepen’ on the final leg of their long voyages. Two ships, the 50 gun Ter Meer under the command of Captain van Putte and the 44 gun Curacao under the command of 31 year old Captain Jan Raije were commissioned at a meeting on 30th March. Captain Raije had a good crew with Commander Langenhove as his second in command and G van Idsinga as his first lieutenant. Besides the Curacao and the Ter Meer the little fleet that set out from Amsterdam to meet the returning cargo ships had two other ships, the Rosine and the Oranje Galei plus six small provision ships making up their total number.
The two fleets met up as planned off the Skaw of Unst, Shetland on 31st May and, as the ships exchanged welcoming gun salutes all looked well for a triumphant return to Amsterdam. However, as the two fleets joined, the weather rapidly closed in and the Curacao was lost in the dense fog despite the otherwise calm weather. The fleet sailed on oblivious to the disappearance of the Curacao – the Curacao had run aground. Five of the crew of two hundred were lost as they scrambled ashore from their ship which was quickly breaking up in the swell.
On his return to Amsterdam Captain Raije delivered an official report to the Admiralty on 13th July. In this report he stated that they had been sailing some three to four miles from the shoreline when they were enveloped in an ever thickening fog. He had asked his pilot to start sounding and after he had estimated their position and course to pass the northerly point of Shetland he retired below only to be startled shortly after by the sight of breakers through the side porthole of his cabin. He rushed back on deck and launched a boat to attempt to tow her away from shore but it was useless. The Curacao was gradually pushed by the strong tide onto the rocks at Ship Stack, Unst where she ran aground.. At first they hoped they might get off as there was deep water close to the stranded ship’s stern. It was to no avail – the ship became a total wreck. Captain Reije blamed the loss on the error of his pilot and was exonerated by the Admiralty blaming the loss on the weather conditions and the strong current which pushed the ship ashore despite the efforts of Captain Raije to save his ship.
The wreck was discovered by Robert Stenuit in position 60° 44.790’N, 00° 46.542’W after a long search. She was found in a depth of 22 to 28 metres in three deep gullies close to Ship Stack. They recovered over two hundred items including navigational instruments, tools, small arms and ammunition plus the usual crockery, bottles and utensils of a ship at sea and mapped the site in a detailed archaeological survey including the exact locations of the many brass and iron guns from the ship. Some of the artefacts were donated to the Shetland County Museum while the majority were returned to Amsterdam.