The ship is known for its many ghostly appearances; showing up out of the dark or the fog and then disappearing, often terrifying the sailors who witness it. An interesting point shared by so many of the books and articles written about the Flying Dutchman is that they all list the same half dozen or so famous sightings of the ship; but these reports are all terrible, because in not a single instance is there any reason for the witness to have identified the ship as that of the infamous Dutchman. They saw, or believed they saw, unidentified wooden ships under sail.
For centuries, sailors around the world have told the legend of a cursed ghost ship, named The Flying Dutchman. The ship is cursed, and as such can never return to port. Since it has place to go, The Flying Dutchman sails around the ocean aimlessly, haunting the minds of sailors and toying with the imaginations of sea farers globally. There have been tales for ages, of late-night spotters in the crow’s nest of a ship seeing a ghost ship passing their bow. Men swear on their lives that the cursed ship, The Flying Dutchman was seen sailing past them.
Where did this legend come from, and who started telling the story of this cursed ship? The first references to The Flying Dutchman comes from the writings of George Barrington in the late 1700’s who wrote about the ship that appeared and then disappeared in a dark cloud – like an apparition. Several other writers and authors have written stories and poems including mentions of The Flying Dutchman. In all of the references, they talk about the ship being a terrible omen to sailors… They never want to see this ship. Seeing The Flying Dutchman is tantamount to a visit from God telling them that their voyage has been cursed.
Was The Flying Dutchman an actual ship, or was it created as folklore? The jury is still out on this question, but many who have speculated about the legend agree that The Flying Dutchman was a ship that became doomed for one reason or another. Some say that The Flying Dutchman was used for piracy and was loaded with gold and other loot. While travelling with a load of treasure, unspeakable crimes were committed on board the ship, thus making it cursed forever.
Other variations of the legend say that the Captain of The Flying Dutchman refused to go to port in the face of a horrible storm and as a result the entire ship perished. Others claim that the ship was not called The Flying Dutchman – that instead it was the name of the captain of the ship. Eventually, as people passed the legend down through the generations, the story of The Flying Dutchman referred to the ship.
Throughout the years, many sailors have claimed to see a ship sailing past them, and then disappearing. One of the most famous men who swore to have seen The Flying Dutchman is Prince George of Wales, along with his brother Prince Albert Victor.
In his writings, he stated that no less than thirteen men saw The Flying Dutchman sail by their ship in the middle of the night, and a few hours later disappeared from all site into thin air.
With all of these sightings, this leaves sailors and observers to wonder… Is there any merit to this legend? As has been well-documented, The Bermuda Triangle has taken the lives of many sailors and pilots throughout history. It is difficult to argue against eyewitness accounts – but can there be a logical explanation to these sightings? Some scientists have stated that the moon light reflecting on the ocean in a distance can create an illusion of sorts, almost like a mirage creates images in a sandy desert.
Does The Flying Dutchman exist today, or is it simply a legend from long ago? Regardless of what one may believe, mariners today do not gamble with fate. This story may be a legend to those who casually read about stories on the ocean’s open waters, but one thing is for certain: A sailor does not dare to call the bluff of the mighty ocean for they do not want to fall victim to the same fate as The Flying Dutchman.
The legend of The Flying Dutchman is said to have started in 1641 when a Dutch ship sank off the coast of the Cape of Good Hope Captain van der Decken was pleased. The trip to the Far East had been highly successful and at last, they were on their way home to Holland. As the ship approached the tip of Africa, the captain thought that he should make a suggestion to the Dutch East India Company (his employers) to start a settlement at the Cape on the tip of Africa, thereby providing a welcome respite to ships at sea.
He was so deep in thought that he failed to 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 sickening crunch – the ship had hit treacherous rocks and began to sink. As the ship plunged downwards, Captain VandeDecken 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 doomsday!”
So, 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 its captain – The Flying Dutchman. Don’t look too carefully, for the old folk claim that whoever sights the ship will die a terrible death. Many people have claimed to have seen The Flying Dutchman, including the crew of a German submarine boat during World War II and holidaymakers.
On 11 July 1881, the Royal Navy ship, the Bacchante was rounding the tip of Africa, when they were confronted with the sight of 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 Flying Dutchman and he used these words to describe the ship “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.” Its pity 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 the curse. By Brian Dunning via skeptic some say it is a spectral schooner seen under full sail, sometimes in the distance, sometimes at night or through the fog, sometimes gliding above the water; its sails may be torn to ribbons, or it may be making great headway even in the lack of wind. Some say the Dutchman refers to the captain of the ship, a man cursed to sail the seas forever and never make land. Flying Dutchman 736_300pxSome say the captain and his ship are doomed to forever try to round a stormy cape, never quite succeeding and always being beaten back by the howling wind and waves. But whatever the specifics of the legend, the Flying Dutchman has become a mainstay of maritime lore. With such a famous story, it would seem worthwhile to see whether it grew from some seed of fact. References to the Flying Dutchman have been around for more than two centuries, and sailing ships were plowing the salt water for centuries before that; so it seems a practical certainty that we should be able to nail down exactly what triggered the stories. A good place to start is its most famous iteration in pop culture. In Wagner’s 1840 opera Der Fliegende Holländer, it is not the ship that is named the Flying Dutchman, but refers to the captain of the ghostly vessel.
The Dutchman, who is unnamed in the opera, commands a ship with only a spectral crew. He makes port in a storm in Norway, and grapples to the ship of Captain Daland. The Dutchman reveals to the captain that years ago, me made a curse during a storm, swearing to Satan that he would round the Cape of Good Hope even if he had to keep trying until doomsday. Satan took him at his word, and cursed him to never be able to make port until he found a woman who would love him until she died. Fortunately, the captain has a nubile daughter, Senta, who, upon hearing of the Dutchman’s terrible plight, falls in love with him. But another suitor, the muscular and handsome huntsman Erik, reminds Senta that she had once promised herself to him. When the Dutchman hears of this, he assumes he is lost forever and casts off with his ghostly crew. Flying Dutchman 735_300pxBut Senta’s love was true, and when she sees the Dutchman sail away, she throws herself into the ocean and drowns. The terms of the curse thus fulfilled, the Dutchman and his ship are seen ascending to heaven (thus becoming the “flying” Dutchman), where he will finally be able to rest.
Interestingly, the Cape of Good Hope is not the cape infamous for its stormy seas; that’s Cape Horn, at the southern tip of South America. The Cape of Good Hope is the tip of the peninsula jutting south from Cape Town, South Africa, and is some 150 kilometers west-north-west from the true southern tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas.