The realm of oceanic navigation consists of a number of superstitions. Among others, haunted ships have always been typecast as omens of ill luck and potentially fatal incidents. Due to their popularity, such ghost ship myths have been a popular cinema subject. However, they are exaggerated to enhance the imagery of ghostliness associated with the haunted vessel.
The myth’s origin and continuance are entirely different most of the time, though no less eerie. It is said that all legends have a basis, and the stories about Flying Dutchman bear no exception. Of all the specters of ghost ships perceived to be seen and spoken out loud, the specter of sighting the Flying Dutchman ship intensifies the scariness aspect.
Legend Of The Flying Dutchman In Art and Cinema
The Flying Dutchman, a mainstay of maritime lore, is a legendary ghost ship doomed to sail the oceans forever since it can’t make port. Originated in the 17th century, there are several stories about the myth of the Flying Dutchman. Some point to a cursed vessel, while a few suggest the Dutchman refers to the ship’s Captain, who was destined not to make land despite all his effort.
The Flying Dutchman has been captured in paintings, television series, and movies such as Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), At World’s End, and Dead Man’s Chest (2006) from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean films. Wagner’s Opera, called Der fliegende Holländer, composed by Richard Wagner, is also based on the tale of the doomed vessel sailing through the North Sea and its captain Vanderdecken playing dice with the devil in exchange for his soul. The dice motif is also a part of the famous poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1798.
Famous Sightings of the Phantom Ship
While the Flying Dutchman might be a fable, warning people of arrogance and recklessness at seas, many claimed to have sighted the ghost ship. Its first sighting appeared in John McDonald’s work, “Travels in Various parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa during a Series of Thirty Years and Upwards,” in 1790. From then on, sailors used to record their sightings in log books and personal diaries.
There have been references to the Flying Dutchman for more than two centuries. Sighting accounts differ as few claim it was a spectral schooner seen under full sail; some witnessed it sailing through the fog or rough water, while many claims to encounter the ghost ship making significant headway in the calm waters.
Right from the time the myth emerged in the 1600s, various sightings of the ghost vessel were reported on the Cape of Good Hope. All these sightings happened when the weather was extremely stormy, and the gales lashed hard.
According to the narrations, the ghost vessel came across as being caught in the storm and almost on the verge of colliding with rocks before vanishing into the darkness.
Dutchman is called the harbinger of death and impending doom for vessels that have sighted it. It has also been retold countless times that letters and messages used to be passed onto those ships that passed the Dutchman in their route. The crew’s opening of these letters and messages resulted in the vessels’ destruction and the crew parting with their lives.
Prominent amongst these reports of sightings is the one seen by the H.M.S. Bacchante, a British Royal Naval vessel, in 1881. Future King George V, who was serving as a midshipman as a part of the vessel crew, and Prince Albert Victor are said to have sighted the ghost ship in the Australian waters at around 4’o clock in the morning.
And while the Prince did not encounter any fatality, the seafarer who had first reported about the ghost vessel sighting met his end after falling from the topmast, lending further credibility to the ominous sighting of the vessel among the seafarers of yore. This sighing of Flying Dutchman can reportedly be found in the Admiralty’s official publications in The Cruise of H.M.S. Bacchante.
In another incident, a British vessel came near having a collision with the so-called ghost ship on a stormy night in 1835, when the vessel was approaching under full sail but vanished suddenly.
The other famous incident occurred in 1939 when a group of people near Table Bay in Cape Town, on the southern coast of Africa, reported seeing the haunted vessel sailing toward shore under full sail before disappearing soon.
The latest sighting of the vessel was reported during World War ll. According to reports, a German submarine boat, under the command of Nazi Admiral Karl Dönitz, sighted the Flying Dutchman during their voyage through the east of Suez.
Origin of the Myth
The Flying Dutchman was a part of the Dutch East India Company’s fleet of ships, sailing between the Netherlands and the East Indies, carrying silks, spices, dyes, and other exotic items from Asia to Europe. The ship was caught in a storm while returning to Amsterdam.
The much-recounted folklore shrouding the vessel is for the man who skippered the ghost ship. Accounts vary about the name of the skipper of the Flying Dutchman. According to some, the Captain was one Hendrick Van der Decken, whose deep contemplation about the plight of his seamen and resultant oblivion to the approaching storm on the coast of the Cape led to the ship being destroyed.
Captain Van Der Decken was working for the Dutch East India Company during the early 17th century and was one of two men thought to have captained the Flying Dutchman. During one of his voyages to Amsterdam, Captain Van Der Decken thought of establishing a settlement near the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa as a respite from the rough waters.
As the vessel started to round the Cape, a terrible storm hit, putting the ship in danger of capsizing. Though sailors argued Captain to turn around, he ordered his crew to go ahead. The anecdote also iterated the Captain’s utterance to bring the vessel around the Cape even if it meant to sail “until doomsday.”
According to mythology, this angered the gods, who punished his soul by trapping him in the ship for eternity. In other versions, the devil overheard him and condemned him to sail forever in his boat. However, the devil gave him a way out to redeem himself through the love of a faithful woman. Hence, every seven years, the Captain is allowed to come to land to search for his one true love and find salvation through her.
Another story suggested a fight between the Captain and the rebel group over the Captain’s decision, which eventually ended in the murder of the rebel leader. As the rebel leader’s body hit the water, the vessel spoke to the Captain about his decision to press on, and the Captain replied that he would be attempting to reach his destination till the Day of Judgment. This incident led to the fate of the Flying Dutchman to sail the oceans for eternity with a ghostly crew of dead men.
In an alternate folklore relation, the Captain of the vessel is said to be one whose onboard activities were satanic and whose pride, when encountered a storm in the Cape, led to the ship being mercilessly tossed into its eye instead of turning back.
According to the folklore rendition, the vessel was cursed to sail the oceans without ever making a port or harbor.
Scientific Explanation of the Ghost Ship Sightings
As the news about the sighting of the Flying Dutchman started spreading, there were efforts to understand what was happening. While many preferred believing the ghost stories, some went after the scientific expiations for such incidents.
The most acclaimed logical explanation for these sightings is a superior mirage, which is also called Fata Morgana. According to scientists, this is a natural optical phenomenon that occurs after moisture and atmospheric conditions combined with light result in a displaced image of distant objects. And it also tricks our eyes into seeing things that don’t exist there.
This phenomenon can be seen at sea, on land, or even in deserts, where it can involve almost any distant object. This illusion, at sea, sometimes makes a ship that is beyond the limits of a naked eye reflect on the water, making us see a boat floating above the sea.
Despite these logical explanations, many still believe in the existence of such a ghost ship. However, in contemporary times, more than ghost ships, the threat of pirate vessels looms on a massive scale.
And while the specter of the Dutchman cannot be overruled, skippers and the crew would be warier of pirate vessels taking advantage of the situation under the guise of a centuries-old ghost vessel rather than sighting an actual ghost ship itself.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Flying Dutchman
1. Where was the Flying Dutchman last seen?
It was last seen during World War II by a German Submarine boat, commanded by Admiral Karl Dönitz, passing through the east of Suez.
2. Did the Flying Dutchman exist?
The legend originated in the 17th century, the golden age for the Dutch East India Company and the heightening of Dutch maritime power.
3. What is the curse of the Flying Dutchman?
Flying Dutchman is the ship’s Captain who struggled to reach Amsterdam via the Cape of Good Hope amidst a storm. He swore to reach land even if he had to sail until the doom’s day, which led to the curse of the Flying Dutchman. The ship is destined to sail for eternity without ever reaching land.
4. Is the Flying Dutchman Evil?
According to myths, he is not purely evil and has ghost companions to keep him company.
5. Is the Crew of the Flying Dutchman immortal?
Yes, they are immortal. They cannot be killed until released from service. Also, the more they stayed on the ship, they forgot who they were, ultimately becoming one with the ghost ship.
6. Why does the flying dutchman go underwater?
This might be due to the popular myth of the Dutchman being submerged.
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