The Flying Dutchman - Ghost Ship
The Flying Dutchman, according to folklore, is a ghost ship that can never go home, doomed to sail the oceans forever. The Flying Dutchman is usually spotted from afar, sometimes glowing with ghostly light. It is said that if hailed by another ship, its crew will try to send messages to land or to people long dead. In ocean lore, the sight of this phantom ship is a portent of doom.
Versions of the story are numerous in nautical folklore and related to medieval legends such as Captain Falkenburg, who was cursed to ply the North Sea until Judgment Day, playing dice with the Devil for his own soul.
"Once upon a time there was a certain captain called Willem van der Decken this captain owned a ship. He lived in Terneuzen and was known as a dauntless man. He travelled a lot but on one of his trips, around the year of 1676, he disappeared.
It was told that Van der Decken was on his way to the Dutch East Indies when a terrible storm started at Cape the Good Hope. The Chief Mate gave the captain the advice to wait for the storm to calm down. But the captain went mad and in rage he threw his Chief Mate overboard together with his Bible. He took control over the steering wheel and shouted "Even if God would let me sail to Judgement Day, I will pass the Cape!" After he spoke the storm disappeared and the sea became calm. Then there was a voice from above: "Willem van der Decken, thou shall sail until Judgement Day!" The crew of the ship died one by one until Van der Decken was left. He never quit sailing and still tries to pass the Cape of Good Hope. When there are heavy storms, mortal sailors will see Van der Decken on his black ship with bloody sails, trying to pass the Cape waiting until Judgement Day."
famous of the phantom vessels, supposedly seem in stormy weather off the
Cape of Good Hope but now and then reported in other latitudes.
The term 'Flying
Dutchman' actually refers to the captain, not his ship.
Legend has it that this maniacal Dutch sea captain was struggling to round the Cape of
Good Hope in the teeth of a terrible gale that threatened to sink his ship and all aboard.
The sailors warned him to turn around, the
passengers pleaded, but the captain, either mad or drunk, refused to
change course. Instead, he pressed on, singing loud and obscene
songs, before going below to his cabin to drink beer and smoke his pipe. Monstrous waves pummeled the sides of the ship,
howling winds bent the masts and tore at the sails, but still the captain
held his course, challenging the wrath of God Almighty by
swearing a blasphemous oath.
Finally, there was a mutiny on board; the crew and
passengers attempted to take control of the ship, but the captain, roused from
his drunken stupor, killed the leader of the rebellion and threw him overboard. The moment the body hit the water, the clouds parted, and a shadowy
figure materialized on the quarterdeck.
"You're a very stubborn man," the shadow
said, and the captain answered him with an cussword. "I never asked for a peaceful passage," the
captain went on. "I never asked for anything. So clear off before I
shoot you, too."
But the figure didn't move. Drawing his pistol, the
captain tried to fire, but the gun exploded in his hand. Now the figure
spoke again, and told the captain he was accursed.
"As a result of
your actions you are condemned to sail the
oceans for eternity with a ghostly crew of dead men, bringing death to all
who sight your spectral ship, and to never make port or know a moment's
peace," the shadow said. "Furthermore, gall shall be your drink, and red hot iron
your meat." The captain, reckless to the last, cried,
"Amen to that!"
And so, for centuries from then on, the Flying
Dutchman was seen piloting his spectral vessel, its canvas spread, its
masts creaking in a fearful wind. Sometimes, it was said, he led other
ships astray, onto rocky shoals and hidden reefs.
Also he was said to
be responsible for turning sailors' food supplies sour. His ship, looking
innocent enough, would sometimes draw alongside another vessel and send
letters aboard. But if the letters were opened and read, the ship would
founder. Those who saw the captain himself claimed that he
was bareheaded and repentant, clasping the wheel on the quarterdeck, pleading
the heavens for mercy at last. In the rigging of his ship, some
said, they could see a crew of skeletons, grinning miserably as they put on
ever more sail.
The tale of the Flying
Dutchman has been elaborated by many writers, but it is more than a piece
of fiction. The phantom ship has been seen many times — and there have
been reports even in the 20th century, including
the crew of a German submarine boat during World War II.
One of the first recorded sightings was by the captain and
crew of a British ship in 1835. They recorded that they saw the phantom
ship approaching in the blanket of a terrible storm. It came so close that
the British crew feared the two ships might run into each other, but then the ghost
ship suddenly vanished.On 11 July 1881, the Royal Navy ship H.M.S. Bacchante was
rounding the tip of Africa, when they sighted The Flying Dutchman. The midshipman, a prince who later became King George
V, recorded that the lookout man and the officer of the watch had seen the
"A strange red light as of a phantom ship all aglow,
in the midst of which light the mast, spars and sails of a brig 200 yards
distant stood out in strong relief."
It was a misfortune that the lookout saw the Flying Dutchman, for
soon after on the same trip, he accidentally fell from a mast and died.
Fortunately for the English royal family, the young midshipman survived
As recently as March, 1939, the ghost ship was seen off
the coast of South Africa by dozens of bathers who supplied detailed
descriptions of the ship, although most had probably never seen a 17th
century merchant vessel. The British South Africa Annual of 1939 included the
story, derived from newspaper reports:
"With uncanny volition, the
ship sailed steadily on as the Glencairn beach folk stood about keenly
discussing the whys and wherefores of the vessel. Just as the excitement
reached its climax, however, the mystery ship vanished into thin air as
strangely as it had come."The last recorded sighting was in 1942 off
the coast of Cape Town. Four witnesses saw the Dutchman sail into Table
Bay... and vanish.
Many authorities have
argued that the story of the Flying Dutchman has its origin in a real
event, though there is very little agreement about what the event was.
Further confusion is brought into the matter by the fact that are many
versions of the tale — in which the ship's skipper is variously named
Vanderdecken, Van Demien, Van Straaten, Van der
Decken, or Van something else.
Another version of the
legend that allegedly originated the whole affair is said to have happened
in 1641, when a Dutch ship sank off the coast of the Cape of Good Hope.
The story goes that, as the ship approached the tip of Africa, the captain
thought that he should make a proposition to the Dutch East India Company
(his employers) to start a settlement at the Cape on the tip of Africa,
thereby providing a welcome repose to ships at sea.
He was so deep in thought that he did not notice the
dark clouds looming and only when he heard the lookout scream out in
terror, did he realize that they had sailed straight into a fierce storm.
The captain and his crew battled for hours to get out of the storm and at
one stage it looked like they would make it. Then they heard a terrible crunch — the ship had
crashed into treacherous rocks and started to sink. As the
ship plunged downwards, Captain Van der Decken (or whatever) knew that
death was approaching. He was not ready to die and screamed out a curse:
"I WILL round this Cape even if I have to keep sailing until
And, like in every version of the tale, this one also
claims that even today whenever a storm brews off the Cape of Good Hope,
if you look into the eye of the storm, you will be able to see the ship
and it's captain — The Flying Dutchman. Don't look too carefully, for
the old folk claim that whoever sights the ship will die a terrible death.
On yet another version, this one placed in the year 1729
(others say 1680), the captain this time swears at the Devil, who then
condemns him to sail the spectral seas forever. The Devil left him just
one small hope; that only through the love of a woman could he be released
from his curse.
So the unfortunate Dutch captain returns to land every
seven years in a hopeless search for salvation, because the Dutchman can
only find eternal peace in the arms of a faithful woman. Wagner's opera,
"Der fliegende Hollander," is loosely based on this version of
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