On July 9, the crew encountered a polar bear for the first time. After shooting it with a musket when it tried to climb aboard the ship, the seamen decided to capture it with the hope of bringing it back to Holland. Once leashed and brought aboard the ship however, the bear rampaged and had to be killed. They named the location of the event "Bear Island." Some accounts suggest this event happened on June 9, 1596 as part of the third voyage.
Upon discovering the Orange Islands, the crew came across a herd of approximately 200 walruses and tried to kill them with hatchets and pikes. Finding the task more difficult than they imagined, they left with only a few ivory tusks.
Barentsz reached the west coast of Novaya Zemlya, and followed it northward before being forced to turn back in the face of large icebergs. Although they did not reach their ultimate goal, the trip was considered a success.
Setting out on June 2, 1595, the voyage went between the Siberian coast and Vaygach Island. On August 30, the party came across approximately 20 Samoyed "wilde men" with whom they were able to speak, due to a crewmember speaking their language. September 4 saw a small crew sent to States Island to search for a type of crystal that had been noticed earlier. The party was attacked by a polar bear, and two sailors were killed.
Eventually, the expedition turned back upon discovering that unexpected weather had left the Kara Sea frozen. This expedition was largely considered to be a failure.
The Town Council of Amsterdam purchased and outfitted two small ships, captained by Jan Rijp and Jacob van Heemskerk, to search for the elusive channel under the command of Barents. They set off on May 10 or May 15, and returned to Bear Island.
Having discovered Spitsbergen, the ships once again found themselves at Bear Island on July 1, which led to a disagreement between Barentsz and Van Heemskerk on one side and Rijp on the other. They agreed to part ways, with Barentsz continuing northeast, while Rijp headed due north. Barentsz reached Novaya Zemlya on July 17. Anxious to avoid becoming entrapped in the surrounding ice, he intended to head for the Vaigatch Strait, but became stuck within the many icebergs and floes.
Stranded, the 16-man crew was forced to spend the winter on the ice, along with their young cabin boy. After a failed attempt to melt the permafrost, the crew used lumber from their ship to build a 7.8x5.5 metre lodge they called Het Behouden Huys (The Kept House).
Dealing with extreme cold, the crew realised that their socks would burn before their feet could even feel the warmth of a fire - and took to sleeping with warmed stones and cannonballs. In addition, they used the merchant fabrics aboard the ship to make additional blankets and clothing.
The ship bore salted beef, butter, cheese, bread, barley, peas, beans, groats, flour, oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, beer, wine, brandy, hardtack, smoked bacon, ham and fish. Much of the beer froze, bursting the casks. By November 8 Gerrit de Veer, the ships carpenter who kept a diary, reported a shortage of beer and bread, with wine being rationed four days later.
In January 1597, De Veer became the first person to witness and record the atmospheric anomaly known as the Novaya Zemlya effect.
Proving successful at hunting, the group caught 26 arctic foxes in primitive traps, as well as killing a number of polar bears.
When June arrived, and the ice had still not loosened its grip on the ship, the scurvy-ridden survivors took two small boats out into the sea on June 13. Barentsz died while studying charts only seven days after starting out. It is not known whether Barents was buried on the northern island of Novaya Zemlya, or at sea. It took seven more weeks for the boats to reach Kola where they were rescued by a Russian merchant vessel, and by that time only 12 crewmen remained. Ultimately, they did not reach Amsterdam until November 1. Sources differ on whether two men died on the ice floe and three in the boats, or three on the ice floe and two in the boats.The young cabin boy had died during the winter months in the shelter.
The amateur archaeologist Miloradovich 's 1933 finds are held in the Arctic and Antarctic Museum in St. Petersburg Dmitriy Kravchenko visited the site in 1977, 1979 and 1980 - and sent divers into the sea hoping to find the wreck of the large ship. He returned with a number of objects, which went to the Russian Arkangel's Regional Museum. Another small collection exists at the Polar Museum in Tromsø. In 1992, an expedition of three scientists, a journalist and two photographers commissioned by the Arctic Centre at the University of Groningen, coupled with two scientists, a cook and a doctor sent by the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St. Petersburg, returned to the site, and erected a commemorative marker at the site of the cabin.
In 1853, the former Murmean Sea was renamed Barents Sea in his honour.
In 1878, the Netherlands christened the Willem Barentsz Arctic exploration ship.
In 1946, the Whaling ship Pan Gothia was re-christened the Willem Barentsz. In 1953, the second Willem Barentsz whaling ship was produced.