Ghost Ship: The Mysterious Flying Dutchman

The realm of oceanic navigation is one that consists of a number of superstitions. Among others, haunted ships have always been typecast as being omens of ill luck and potentially fatal incidents.

In line with the popularity of such stories in the waters, the myths and legends of ghost ships have also often been depicted in movies and operas.

But these depictions of nautical myths and legends often have been filled with exaggerations to enhance the imagery of ghostliness associated with the haunted vessel.

The origin and the continuance of the myth, however, is completely different most of the time, though no less eerie.

It is said that all legends have a basis in fact and the stories about Flying Dutchman bears no exception to this. Of all the spectres of ghost ships perceived to be seen and spoken out loud, the spectre of sighting the Flying Dutchman ship is one that intensifies the aspect of scariness and eeriness.

The Flying Dutchman, a mainstay of maritime lore, is a legendary ghost ship that is doomed to sail the oceans forever since it can’t make port due to the rough waters.

Originated in the 17th-century, there are a number of stories around the myth of Flying Dutchman, some point to a cursed vessel, while a few suggest the Dutchman refers to the captain of the ship, who destined not to make land despite all his effort.

The Flying Dutchman has been captured in paintings and television series and the ship also made appearances in movies such Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) and Dead Man’s Chest (2006) from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean films.

Flying dutchman ship

Origin of the Myth

There have been references to the Flying Dutchman for more than two centuries. The accounts of sighting differ as few claim it was a spectral schooner seen under full sail; some witnessed it sailing through the fog or rough water, while there many claiming to encounter the ghost ship making great headway in the calm waters.

Right from the time, the myth emerged in the 1600s; various sightings of the ghost vessel were reported in the Cape of Good Hope. All these sightings happened when the weather was extremely stormy and the gales were lashing hard.

According to the narrations penned down, 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.

And, the Dutchman is called the harbinger of death and destruction for those vessels which have sighted it. It has also been retold countless times that letters and missives used to be passed onto those ships that passed the Dutchman in their route.

The opening of these letters and missives by the crew resulted in the ships getting destroyed and the crew parting with their lives.

Prominent amongst these reports of sightings is the one seen by the HMS Bacchante, a British Royal Naval vessel, in the year 1881. Prince George V, who was serving as a midshipman as a part of the vessel crew, is 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 down from the top-mast, lending further credibility about 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 of 1835, when the vessel was approaching under full sail, but vanished suddenly.

The other popular incident occurred in 1939 when a group of people at Glencairn Beach in Cape Town 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.

However, at present, the oceanic realm seems to be quiet with respect to the sighting of the Dutchman though its allure has not lessened in any manner whatsoever.

Not a vessel, the cursed Captain Van Der Decken

The much-recounted folklore and the mystery shrouding the vessel are not for the vessel itself but 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.

According to the stories, Captain Van Der Decken was working for the Dutch East India Company during the early 17th century and also was one of two men thought to have captained the Flying Dutchman.

It was 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 vessel in danger of capsizing. Though sailors argued captain t0 turn around, he ordered his crew to go ahead. In accordance with this anecdote, it has also been iterated about the captain’s utterance to bring the vessel around the Cape even if it meant for him to sail the vessel “until doomsday.”

This statement made by the skipper while the vessel was in its last dregs, said to be brought about the ghostly plight of the vessel to sail the seas forever, without making ground in any port or harbour ever.

On another hand, another story suggested a fight between the Captain and the rebel group in the vessel over the captain’s decision, which eventually ended in the murder of the rebel leader.

As the body of the rebel leader hit the water, the vessel spoke to the Captain about his decision to press on and the captain replied that he will be attempting to reach his destination till the Day of Judgment. This incident led to the fate of 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.

For this sense of courting danger, according to the folklore rendition, the captain and the vessel were cursed to sail the oceans without ever making port or harbour.

Scientific Explanation of the Flying Dutchman

As the news about the sighting of the Flying Dutchman started spreading, there were efforts to understand what is really 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, which occurs after moisture and atmospheric conditions combined with light results in a displaced image of distant objects. And, it also tricks our eyes into seeing objects that don’t really exist there.

This phenomenon can be seen at sea, on land or even in deserts, where it can involve almost any kind of 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 ship was 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 really massive scale.

And, while the spectre 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.

Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendation on any course of action to be followed by the reader.

The article or images cannot be reproduced, copied, shared or used in any form without the permission of the author and Marine Insight. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.