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Dutch navigator and pilot, in charge of a doomed 1596-1597 expedition to find a Northern sea passage from Europe to China.

It was doomed for an unsurprising reason: no such passage exists. Siberia is in the way.

The expedition consisted of two ships, captained by Jacob van Heemskerck and Jan Cornelisz. Rijp. In the spring of 1596, they left Holland and headed north, intending to sail across the North Pole. They discovered the islands of Spitsbergen, far north of Norway, and hit the border of the pack ice there. Here they parted company: Rijp continued north, while Barentsz and Van Heemskerck sailed east in an attempt to find a way around Siberia.

They didn't get far, reaching the coast of Novaya Zemlya in August, then continuing along its coast until their boat was enclosed, and finally crushed, by the moving ice. They built a house on land (Het Behouden Huys, "the preserved house") and prepared to survive the winter night (no sun for two months) in the barren cold.

On June 14, 1597, with a newly built ship, they finally started on the return voyage. Barentsz died soon after, on the sea that bears his name today. In August, they met Rijp in Kola; in November, the twelve survivors returned home to Amsterdam to report on their failed mission.

Barentsz's expedition is recognised as one of the great feats of heroism in Dutch national history.

(Data stolen mercilessly from http://www.angelfire.com/tx/shofstee/ewillemb.html)

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