The Flying Dutchman

Sailing Ship
Picture Source: British Navy, image subject to the Crown Copyright

The term Ghost Ship refers to two different kinds of ships. One is the familiar haunted ship that sails the seas and the other is an old decommissioned ship usually containing hazardous material that has to be stripped and scrapped. While the second type of Ghost Ships is now stirring up a lot of trouble, because no one wants it in their country, the first type is still being sited. We think of Ghost Ships as plying the seven seas as they say, but they are also spotted in other areas such as lakes. The Great Lakes in the U.S. are a source of many Ghost Ship sightings

The Flying Dutchman is one of the most famous Ghost Ships in the world. In the 17th century there was a merchant ship under the control of a unscrupulous captain. In 1680, during a storm, he was rounding the Cape of Good Hope. The winds were blowing him off course and in a rage, it is said that he cursed God and muttered that he would rather sail until doomsday then sit out the storm at anchor. The Legend states, that because of this, he was forced to sail the seas forever and was never able to put into port. It is said that if you are unfortunate enough to see The Flying Dutchman, something terrible will happen to you. One of the most famous sightings was first by a seaman then by Prince George in 1881. Prince George later became King George V. The seaman who first sighted the Dutchman, later in the same day, fell from the topmast and died. Also in 1881 another ship passed in the path of The Flying Dutchman, it was a Swedish merchantman. Upon sighting the Dutchman the lookout fall from his post and died but not before saying he saw The Flying Dutchman. A second lookout was sent up the mast and he died two days later. A few years later an American ship was rounding the Cape of Good Hope, its name was the Relentless. It spotted The Flying Dutchman and the captain ordered the helmsman to head for the Dutchman so he could get a better look but the helmsman died at the wheel and later that night three crewmen were washed away. These sort of things continued, feeding the legend. In later years The Flying Dutchman was encountered again. In 1911 the Orkney Belle came across it In 1914 she was one of the first British ships sunk in the war. In 1939 over sixty people saw the Dutchman head toward the beach then disappear right before their eyes. This took place in South Africa. In 1942, according to Admiral Karl Doenitz of the German Navy, U boats had logged sightings of The Flying Dutchman. Also in 1942 The Flying Dutchman was sighted by H.M.S. Jubilee. Nicholas Monsarrat, author of The Cruel Sea was on watch and signaled to the ship, but received no reply. He made a log book entry that a schooner of an unknown class, was moving under full sail yet there was no wind. In 1943 four people in Capetown saw the Dutchman disappear behind an island. In 1959 the Staat Magelhaen had a ship appear in front of it on a collision course, it was The Flying Dutchman. Just as the ships were about to hit, the Dutchman disappeared. A person was visible at the wheel. The man at the wheel is said to be her captain Van Decken serving his sentence of damnation. During storms the Cape light house often reported seeing The Flying Dutchman.

A description comes down to us from four sailors who were said to see the Dutchman in 1923. They said at first they saw a strange light and one of them got a pair of binoculars and could make out the outline of a ship. The ship had a strange luminous light and there were two masts. Instead of sails on the masts, a mist covered the area where the sails would be. Some people say the term Flying Dutchman was considered to mean any ghost ship when we are talking about ships over one hundred years ago. But those ships would have had to be sighted in the Cape of Good Hope area because the curse of The Flying Dutchman doesn't allow it to alter course, it must always stay in that area. As far as the term Flying Dutchman having been applied to any ghost ship over 100 years ago, I have found no evidence of this, but on the other hand, how could anyone be sure that they were looking at The Flying Dutchman unless they could read the name on the side of the ship? Sir Walter Scott wrote about the Dutchman and said "She is distinguished from earthly vessels by bearing a press of sail when other vessels are unable, from stress of weather, to show an inch of canvas." A movie was made about The Flying Dutchman which stared James Mason and Ava Gardner and it was quite popular at the time. There is also an opera by Richard Wagner about the Dutchman.

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