The scene off Buchan Ness that third week in July,
with stiff breezes and bright Scottish skies, could have come straight from the pen of Robert Louis Stevenson:
the romance of ships under sail, the anticipation of a “battle of encounter,” and the smell of adventure in the salty air.
But from the decks of the Dutch escort squadron, the view that morning must have been terrifying.
As the English fleet of 66 capital ships bore down on the sixteen Dutch escorts protecting the 600 boats of the herring fleet,
Dutch Vice-Admiral Reinout Veenhuysen of the Sphera Mundi opened fire prematurely, and then abruptly fled the scene.
Leading eight frigates of the English vanguard, Captain John Taylor of the Laurel was the first to answer with a broadside of 24 guns, and the battle was begun.
Veenhuysen’s cowardice was made up for by some of the other Dutch warships that fought back.
The Battle of Buchan Ness turned into a bloody three-hour affair, a seagoing slaughterhouse with both sides taking heavy casualties
and many English ships put out of action. Kalmar Sleutel was at the center of the action.
Captain Vijgh and his crew were among the most heavily engaged, fighting desperately against overwhelming English firepower.
The smaller Dutch escorts, mostly armed merchant vessels, were no match for the English frigates, new purpose-built warships that each carried 36 guns or more and doubled the weight of the Dutch broadsides.
Skilled Dutch seamanship could not for long overcome such a discrepancy in firepower.
In three hours of fighting the English seized twelve of the Dutch escorts and scattered the fishing fleet, taking thirty of the busses.
Six of the captured Dutch warships were taken into the English fleet; three others were sent to the city of Inverness carrying the English wounded;
and three were so badly shot to pieces that they could not be salvaged and were sunk by the English after being seized.
Kalmar Sleutel was one of the three “so much shattered” that she couldn’t stay above the waterline.
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