The Flying Dutchman: Ghost Ship Doomed To Sail Forever

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are that you’ve already heard of the Flying Dutchman. An iconic maritime legend, this ship is a favorite in pop culture and has made an appearance in various popular movies and shows.

The most well-known portrayal of the legend in popular media is undoubtedly the Pirates of the Caribbean. In this hit movie franchise, the ghost ship takes center stage, manned by the green octopus-faced Davy Jones.

Besides thrilling action-packed movies, the legend has also appeared in more “child-friendly” shows. Notably, the Flying Dutchman was featured in a few episodes of the popular animation, Spongebob SquarePants, as a green spirit.

Origin Of The Myth

flying dutchman
Photo by Wikimedia Commons

The legend dates way back to the late 18th century. Sailors allegedly spotted a specter of a ship. Upon sighting this ghostly apparition, doom or disaster soon befell. The next 250 years saw continuous reports of the ghost ship. The Flying Dutchman soon rose to be one of the most well-known maritime legends.

What Was The Flying Dutchman?

Before it became known as the ghostly apparition that foretold inevitable doom, what was the Flying Dutchman? The Flying Dutchman took its name from the ship’s captain: Captain Hendrik van der Decken aka the Dutchman.

Where Was It Headed To?

Stocked with spices, silk, and dyes, the Flying Dutchman was set to sail back to the Netherlands from the far East Indies.

A Treacherous Route Home

To get back to Amsterdam, the ship had to sail along a precarious route. The most dangerous part of the route was located near The Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. Ironically, there was nothing hopeful or awe-inspiring about that area. The Cape of Good Hope was characterized by violent storms and rocky outcrops. So temperamental were the storms that The Cape of Good Hope was given another darker nickname: The Cape of Storms. Before the Flying Dutchman, this risky area had already claimed many lives. Ships that found themselves powerless against the might of nature called The Cape of Good Hope their final resting place.

Misfortune Strikes The Flying Dutchman

Legend has it that as Captain Hendrik van der Decken and his crew rounded the Cape of Good Hope, a sudden storm began to brew. The crew, aware of storm’s murderous power, begged the captain to turn the ship around. However, stubborn (and some say drunk), Hendrik van der Decken insisted that they continue to sail through the storm. Even as the waves grew choppier and the wind screamed, van der Decken would not back down.

Van der Decken apparently bellowed that he would sail through the Cape, even if it took him till “Doomsday”. Some say his stubborn cry was what cursed the Flying Dutchman to an eternity of sailing the seas.

Another popular myth was that as the ship began to sink, an angel appeared in front of van der Decken. However, instead of pleading for mercy or help, the irate, panicked Dutchman shot the angel instead. Some say that his act of irrational violence was what led to the curse of the ghost ship.

Sightings Of The Flying Dutchman

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Starting from the late 18th centuries, there have been numerous reports of this ghostly apparition. A common theme to all reports were claims of doom or disaster soon after the Flying Dutchman was spotted.

The Flying Dutchman is said to appear as a glowing spectral. The apparition appears suddenly and vanishes just as quickly, leaving witnesses stunned at what they’ve just seen. In 1939, the residents of Cape Town, South Africa made frantic reports of seeing a vessel, before it vanished without a trace. Later, during World War II, the ghost ship was once again spotted. This time, the ghostly apparition was allegedly sighted in the Suez Canal by the crew aboard a German submarine. Renowned British writer, Nicholas Monsarrat also claimed to have spotted the Flying Dutchman during his time serving the Navy in the Second World War.

The Flying Dutchman is not just a passive phantom. Some claim that the Flying Dutchman has actually tried to make contact with other travelers. When hailed by other ships, the crew of the ghost ship will apparently try to send messages to land. One can never be sure if the damned crew is attempting to communicate with the people at shore today, or to the people of the past – who are now long dead.

Written Reports

Besides verbal reports, there have been some interesting written accounts of the ghost ship.

Notably, one of the more well-known accounts of the Flying Dutchman was written by Prince George on July 11, 1881. Prince George was sailing near Australia aboard the HMS Bacchante, as part of the three-year-long journey at sea. The trip so far had been fairly uneventful.

However, on that fateful day, misfortune stroke. In the chilliness of the dawn at 4am, the crew spotted a glowing red light, that many believe to belong to the Flying Dutchman. As the HMS Bacchante sailed nearer to the spot where the light was sighted, there was no vessel to be seen. This was despite the sea conditions being clear. Visibility was at its optimum, yet there as no trace of this mysterious red light. Soon after, the crew who first spotted the ghostly red light fell to his untimely death off the topmast. The accident was sudden, unexpected, and freaky. The weird coincidence of the accident with the spotting of the ghostly light further cemented the association between the Flying Dutchman and misfortune.

A Scientific Explanation For The Flying Dutchman

Over the years, people have tried to rationalize the ghostly sightings using scientific explanation. Some have theorized that the ghostly apparitions were only just a trick of the mind, owing to the physics of light refraction. Termed Fata Morgana, this phenomenon occurs when light refracts and bends through differentially heated temperatures of air, leading to a mirage – aka the Flying Dutchman.

Is the Flying Dutchman a real ghost ship or is it nothing more than a scientific phenomenon? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

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