When the Dutch East India Company ship Fortuyn sailed from its home port of Texel in 1723 on its maiden voyage, skipper Pieter Westrik would have been full of optimism.
The ship under his command was among the company's newest.
At 800 tonnes, and more than 44m long, it was set to join the spice trade with a long but lucrative journey to modern-day Indonesia, sailed by a crew of 225.
For protection it was armed with 36 cannon and eight swivel guns, and to finance its venture it carried 200,000 Dutch guilders worth of silver bars and coins.
It left Texel on September 27, 1723, accompanied by East Indiamen Hogenes and Graveland.
Fortuyn anchored at the Cape of Good Hope on January 2, 1724.
After taking on extra rations, it sailed from the cape on January 18, along with Hogenes, Doornik and Anna Maria. Graveland left a fortnight later.
Four ships reached Batavia safely but Fortuyn never arrived.
The mystery of its fate has been gnawing away at decorated WA maritime archaeologist Graeme Henderson for years.
And now, after an exhaustive re-evaluation of the clues available in historic documents, modern charts and applying basic common sense, Mr Henderson is about to lead a team to search for Fortuyn on the rugged southern coast of Christmas Island.
Graeme Henderson is leading a team to Cocos and Christmas Islands to look for wreck of Dutch ship Fortuyn. Illustration: 1726. Source: F Valentyn
Mr Henderson's interest in shipwrecks was sparked in 1963 when, as a 16-year-old, he found the 1656 wreck of the Dutch vessel Vergulde Draeck, or Gilt Dragon, on a reef near Ledge Point while spearfishing.
Maritime archaeology became his work as well as his passion, and he rose to become director of the WA Maritime Museum in 1992. Mr Henderson, now retired, said that skippers of Dutch East India Company ships sailing for Batavia between October and March in that era sailed 1100km east from the Cape and north-east to Sunda Strait. Many would pass between the Cocos Islands and Christmas Island.
Dutch researcher Pablo Boorsma had revealed that in April 1724 the skipper of Graveland had found floating wreckage from Fortuyn in the latitude of Cocos and longitude of Christmas Island.
Mr Henderson calculated that the floating wreckage had been about 270km due south of Christmas Island.
There was no indication of storms in the records of the vessels that had sailed with Fortuyn, and so it seemed certain it had struck a reef.
Analysis of ocean currents meant the wreckage seen by Graveland had drifted south.
There was only one reef north of the floating wreckage and that was Christmas Island. The apparent lack of survivors from Fortuyn indicated it had come to a catastrophic end during the night, such as being torn apart after slamming into a sheer cliff face.
Mr Henderson and the search team will begin their hunt for the ship at Christmas Island next week using a magnetometer and side-scan sonar.
The expedition is sponsored by the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the Netherlands Embassy in Canberra and the Silentworld Foundation.
The team also hopes to search at Cocos Islands, where the find of an elephant tusk was reported in 1982, which may have come from another Dutch shipwreck, possibly Aagtekerke.
WA Museum director Alec Coles said the fate of the ships was "one of those great maritime archaeology mysteries".
Martijn Manders, head of the maritime program of the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, said Dutch and Australian archaeologists and historians had been working together for several years on the Fortuyn project and it was exciting that the search was about to get under way.
Mr Henderson said one of the main attractions was the romantic lure of the hunt.
"It's the mystery of the whole thing," he said.