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Legend of The Flying Dutchman, Ghostly Apparition of The Ship of Captain Hendrick

Legend of The Flying Dutchman, Ghostly Apparition of The Ship of Captain Hendrick


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Among nautical myths and legends, few are as famous as the Flying Dutchman. Many have claimed to see the ghostly vessel of Captain Hendrick van der Decken (the Dutchman) since it sank in 1641. It is because of his brash attitude in the face of God’s stormy wrath that Captain van der Decken and his crew are said to be cursed to sail the high seas until doomsday.

Captain van der Decken had made the perilous journey from Holland to the Far East Indies in order to purchase lucrative goods like spices, silks, and dyes. There had been close calls of course but they eventually arrived. After purchasing as much as the hull could hold and having made the necessary repairs to the ship, captain van der Decken set out for Amsterdam.

As his ship rounded the coast of Africa, captain van der Decken thought of how convenient it would be if his employers, the Dutch East India Company, made a settlement near the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa to serve as a respite from the turbulent waters.

View of Table Bay (overlooked by Kaapstad, Dutch Cape Colony) with ships of the Dutch East India Company, c. 1683. ( Public Domain )

Voyage and Curse of the Flying Dutchman

The Captain was deep in thought as his man-of-war ship began to round the Cape. Suddenly, a terrible gale sprung up, threatening to capsize the ship and drown all aboard. The sailors urged their captain to turn around but Captain van der Decken refused. Some say he was mad, others say he was drunk, but for whatever reason, the Captain ordered his crew to press on. He lit his pipe and smoked as huge waves crashed against the ship. The winds tore at the sails and water spilled down into the hull. Yet the Captain “held his course, challenging the wrath of God Almighty by swearing a blasphemous oath” (Occultopedia, 2016).

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Illustration of captain Hendrick van der Decken. ( moonfireprojekt)

Pushed to their limit, the crew mutinied. Without hesitation, Captain van der Decken killed the rebel leader and threw his body into the turning seas. The moment the rebel’s body hit the water the vessel spoke to the Captain “asking him if he did not mean to go into the bay that night. Van der Decken replied: ‘May I be eternally damned if I do, though I should beat about here till the day of judgment’” (Wagner quoted in Music with Ease, 2005).

At that, the voice spoke again saying, “As a result of your actions you are condemned to sail the oceans for eternity with a ghostly crew of dead men bringing death to all who sight your spectral ship and to never make port or know a moment’s peace. Furthermore, gall shall be your drink and red hot iron your meat.” At this, Captain van der Decken did not quaver for an instant. Instead he merely cried “Amen to that!” (Occultopedia, 2016).

The Flying Dutchman by Albert Pinkham Ryder.

Legacy of the Ghost Ship

Since then, Captain van der Decken has been given the moniker the Flying Dutchman, sailing his ghost ship the world over. Sailors claim the Dutchmen has led ships astray, causing them to crash on hidden rocks or reefs. They say that if you look into a fierce storm brewing off the Cape of Good Hope, you will see the Captain and his skeletal crew. But beware, legend has it that whoever catches sight of the Dutchman will most certainly die a gruesome death.

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The legend of the Flying Dutchman first gained widespread popularity with Wagner’s 1843 opera, The Flying Dutchman. Yet, the reason the legend has endured so long and has been the subject of so many retellings (seen in or inspiring not only Wagner’s opera but also Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Pirates of the Caribbean, a SpongeBob Square Pants character, a Scooby-Doo episode, and more) is because there have been so many supposed sightings of the ghost ship.

The last scene of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman (1843).

One of the most famous encounters was made on July 11, 1881 by Prince George of Wales (future King George V) and his brother Prince Albert Victor of Wales. At the time, they were sailing off the coast of Australia. Prince George’s log records:

July 11th. At 4 a.m. the Flying Dutchman crossed our bows. A strange red light as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the midst of which light the masts, spars and sails of a brig 200 yards distant stood out in strong relief as she came up on the port bow, where also the officer of the watch from the bridge clearly saw her, as did the quarterdeck midshipman, who was sent forward at once to the forecastle; but on arriving there was no vestige nor any sign whatever of any material ship was to be seen either near or right away to the horizon, the night being clear and the sea calm. Thirteen persons altogether saw her ... At 10.45 a.m., the ordinary seaman who had this morning reported the Flying Dutchman fell from the foretopmast crosstrees on to the topgallant forecastle and was smashed to atoms.” (Ellis, 2016)

Today, scientists insist that the Dutchman’s ship is nothing more than a mirage, a refraction of light off of the ocean waters.

A 19th century book illustration, showing grossly misleading fictional versions of superior mirages. Actual mirages can never be that far above the horizon, and a superior mirage can never increase the length of an object as shown on the right. ( Public Domain )


The Legend Of The Flying Dutchman Explained

In this modern, 21st century world, we like to pride ourselves on knowing lots of things that our ancient ancestors had no clue about. We're proud of knowing how germs and indoor plumbing work, what makes a rainbow, and why the sky turns all different kinds of colors. But as much as we know, there's one place that's still a terrifying mystery: the ocean.

According to the National Ocean Service, a shocking 80 percent of the world's oceans are unmapped and unexplored. as of 2020. Now, just imagine what we knew 400 years ago, and how much courage it took to head out onto the open seas — especially when you had every reason to believe you were sharing it with ships like the Flying Dutchman.

Sailors have always been a superstitious bunch, putting their faith in all kinds of omens signifying good luck or bad. And one of the most notorious omens of all was the appearance of a ship, doomed to sail the seas for eternity. People — from the lowliest sailor to a future king — claimed to have seen the Dutchman and suffered the curse. So, where did the story of a doomed captain, his crew, and his ship begin? And is there anything to the story? Surprisingly. they almost certainly saw something.


Beginning in a storm

Known for its terrible storms and treacherous outcrops of rock, The Cape of Good Hope in South Africa once had a far darker name: The Cape of Storms. This rocky peninsula, which juts out into the water, was the final resting place for many ships unfortunate enough to run afoul of this beautiful yet temperamental coast.

European trading ships heading to Asia would have to pass through this dangerous route, and one of the first people to journey around the southern coast of Africa was the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias. He was followed by Vasco da Gama, who was the first person to sail directly from Europe to India and, it is said, the first person to name this rocky headland ‘The Cape of Storms’. It is from here that the legend of the Flying Dutchman set sail.


Hendrick Van Der Decken the Flying Dutchman Legend examined.

“Harken unto me the Flying Dutchman is no Lie.:

Words printed in a book written long ago in time written by Sea Captain Fredrick Maryatt from England. It was some 60 years before that the legend first came to light of a ghost ship that sailed through eye of storm trying to land but vanishes before hand. Its sails ripped and torn the ships bell wildly ringing and its Captain strapped to the wheel cursed by the Devil to sail forever the high seas of the Cape.

Many sailors swear they have seen the ship race at them in full sail but vanish before the ships collide. Old stories from my youth in the company of men with faces cracked by sea salt winds and hands like old oak knots with barnacles as fingers. It was a port that rang of legends. Liverpool that rang with the over head railway and royal docks built my great grandfathers own factories made bricks. It was heady and grand with the smell of engine oils and cries of sailors from every port in the known world. Ships that had sailed all seas and mariners that came from the pages of Dickens. Gas light green on the cobbled roads that had felt the tread of Queen Victoria and Gladstone and had brought in King Cotton in the holds of fast clippers .That was my youth and University life in the city that had everything and guitars came of the never never and all could make up songs.

Now I investigate the truth as far back as I am able without made up legend just the bare boned facts.

When skipping through old ships logs I came across H.M.S Bucchante and a report that stood out like a sore thumb. It would have been passed over if not made by a Midshipman who became King George V of England. His report is that a ghostly ship crossed the bow while he was on watch. Some 13 witnesses back this up. The report simple states that the Flying Dutchman crossed the bow of H.M.S Bucchante. This was in 1881 so would a Prince lie? If so he would be mocked but he thought it his duty to report his findings. Out of the 13 witnesses to seeing the ghostly apparition of another ship come so close across her bows that the man on deck with the Midshipman Prince included men and officers. I cant take this lightly as they really believed what they saw was really terrifying stuff.

So determined to go much deep now I searched for more details on the Dutchman.

In 1939 dozens of people at Glencairn Beach in Capetown South Africa reported seeing a ship in full sail race at them in the water at such speed and some saw the ghostly vision of the Captain but it melted away before it reached the shore.

Then we come to Nazi Admiral in charge of U-boat invasion of shipping in the English channel out to the roaring Atlantic in 1942. His report states they saw the Flying Dutchman sail between them in full charge as clear as day. Admiral Karl Donitz reported this to Hitler.

In 1835 a British navy vessel came into near collision with an old sail ship with tall sails. At the last second as the wheelhouse spun the ship around to avoid contact the great vessel flying Dutch colours simply vanished. This led to newspaper cover with many stated witness reports along side article. Wagner wrote his opera of the Flying Dutchman legend in 1841 after reading this news.

Now I gave all I had in time to find the origin of the tale. It really relates to The Dutch East India Company who had a Captain lost at sea but no more details concerned with how it happened. His name was Hendrick Van Der Decken who they think went down with his ship somewhere between port in Holland and the Cape in 1641.

If this is the start of the legend as I am certain it is then we can say we have the first real facts before us.

All stems from this Captain in time and detail it is our man. Is it he who sails the sea forever trying to reach land? Is it he who all report to have witnessed racing by them or even at them and vanishing before impact ? Do ghosts exist and is the Flying Dutchman bound to sail the high seas forever bound to his ships wheel? Well! no smoke without fire and if even the King of England believed the legend what can I say to conclude other than some things are never made for humans to know the answer. For me I have faith that he somehow made contact with evil in life. Real evil and his spirit is not at rest.

The Flying Dutchman is the dead Captain not the altering description of his ship. Therefore it accounts for six different story details of vessels seen. Lighthouse keepers over the centuries at Cape Point lighthouse have record seeing the Dutchman coming out of the mist in various types of old sailing vessels. One account of 1900 gives a chilling tale of watching the Flying Dutchman appear out of a storm that followed him across the wide view of the stormy sea in broad daylight they saw the ship for some minutes before it vanished.

So what old salty Sams told a school boy long ago was not the myth I believed I was being told by expert sea faring men who had sailed before the mast on old sail ships before I was even born.

A ghostly ship in a storm they told me. The Dutchman was coming for them who had died at sea. It was their belief and I was honoured to hear it from the horses mouth. I am forced to say I do believe it exists. Over my life I have sought answers never bare to be fobbed off with lies I wanted only the bones of fact in everything ever done. I have come to the stage that I believe we are here to be tested properly and if we pass being kind and gentle with Gods creatures and see that we are only a spirit housed in flesh and bone and blood as a frame to stay on earth. Then love our brothers and sisters helping all when we are asked then perhaps we can be forgiven for the odd nasty thought. The fact that ghosts may exist are I thought time travel people from the future. Then what do i know only that we see some things at times that make us see beyond the curtain and changes all we thought.

the Flying Dutchman is but a sad wretch in hell for eternity. I think that men who served at sea know far more than me and I in truth will not see them mocked they know he exists they who have seen the hell go past know just how life must be.

Be good be useful be humble be kind. I give you no explanation this time only facts for you to be alert for all truth. It is my belief i say that it is more than possible and too many real reports of this exist be be just a legend.

Yours with deep love for you all no matter where you are at this moment Ill tell you you are not alone ever.


The Origin of the Flying Dutchman

The ghostly ship known as the Flying Dutchman has had sightings dating back to the late 1700’s. Seen as a warning sign, the ghostly vessel had been captured by the eyes of countless witnesses for the next 250 years.

Those unlucky enough to catch of glimpse of the frightening ghost ship saw it as a call to turn around and head back home as to not end up like the unfortunate real-life captain of the craft.

According to legend, the captain of the ship then known as simply the Dutchman was an incredibly headstrong individual who was known for pressing his luck against whatever treacherous seas were presented to him.

The actual real-life captain of the mysterious ship was Hendrick van der Decken, a spice, silk, and dye purveyor who would travel from his native Amsterdam to the Far East Indies for merchandise. He would use a well-known midpoint resting stop known as the Cape of Good Hope.

He had traveled from Amsterdam to the Far East Indies and then back again to sell in the large marketplaces of Holland countless times. However, on one trip in 1641, van der Decken would never make it past the Cape of Good Hope just south of South Africa. The waters were particularly treacherous on this trek, and despite the urgings of his crew to turn the ship back around to get back home to Amsterdam, Hendrick was dead set on completing his mission to Southeast Asia for supplies.

Van der Decken was an extremely proud man to a fault. There are several accounts that he was mad and would stop at nothing to reach his goals. Even though all signs pointed to turning back home towards safety, Hendrick forced his crew to push through the storm, and the vessel would be lost forever to the seas.

The ship would be removed from its physical form permanently, but it wouldn’t be the last time the cursed vessel would be seen by countless eye witnesses.

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Writers, witnesses, and sea goers firmly believed that the ship known as the Flying Dutchman would be forever cursed as a penalty for disobeying the sea’s orders to turn back around.

Visions and sightings of the ghastly craft would come to be taken as a warning sign for all future ship captains to turn their ships around to avoid becoming members of the eternal crew of the Flying Dutchman.

The very first public account of the vessel that was previously believed to never be seen again, would take place in 1790.

Writer John McDonald would go on to reference this lost ship in his particularly long titled book, “Travels, in various part of Europe, Asia and Africa, during a series of thirty years and upward.”

“The weather was so stormy that the sailors said they saw the Flying Dutchman. The common story is that this Dutchman came to the Cape in distress of weather and wanted to get into harbour but could not get a pilot to conduct her and was lost and that ever since in very bad weather her vision appears.” McDonald wrote.

McDonald’s account would be the first of many public descriptions that would go on to increase in numbers throughout the years and would reach its most notable head in the form of the 1843 opera appropriately titled, “The Flying Dutchman.”

The highly successful opera would go on to burn this ghoulish image of an ethereal ship filled with a ghost crew and a captain that would be forever condemned to the seas in the minds of everyone that saw the piece.

With each and every written account thereafter, the legitimacy of the ship would only continue to grow.

In 1881, future king of the United Kingdom, George V, would be aboard a vessel with a crew member that saw the apparition right in the approximate location of where the Flying Dutchman was last seen. This witness would go on to fall to his death from atop the bird’s nest of the topmost. This entire event would spark belief in the future king who would go on to write his account of the ghost ship.

Sightings and accounts would go on to die down until World War II, when British, German, and American soldiers would begin to see the ship in the same location as the other sightings, fully bringing the lore back to life.

With so many notable accounts from countless individuals, the question asked by those who were skeptical was how something like this could be possible.

Ghosts can’t possibly exist in our world, so what was causing so many people to see the Flying Dutchman over a 250-year period?

The most common and reasonable explanation is based on a natural phenomenon known as Fata Morgana. This phenomenon is a type of mirage that is created by the bending of beams of light through varying levels of differing temperatures. Also known as a superior mirage, Fata Morgana can be seen when the air underneath the visible line of sight is much cooler than the warm air above it.

Any source of light that enters this perfect ingredient list for distortion will create an image. The Cape of Good Hope offers all of the ingredients necessary to create this other worldly image.

This image could have been seen as just about anything, but due to hundreds of years of accounts of a ghost ship at this exact location, anyone that would go on to see anything would immediately label it as the Flying Dutchman. Unfortunately, for those unlucky enough to see the spirit ship, the fact that the trading path is used by countless others is another big reason that people swear that they see the Flying Dutchman.

The light will bend around the curve of the Earth and illuminate ships that are actually over the horizon and out of the natural viewing range.

Stillness in the Storm Editor: Why did we post this?

The preceding information discusses strange paranormal occurrences. These mysterious events are hard to prove, as many are anecdotal in nature—lacking empirical scientific measurement. While measuring things is important because it enhances our capacity to share the objective reality of phenomena with others, the absence of measurement isn’t proof of non-existence. Many things exist in our reality that we can’t measure, yet. As such, contemplating the paranormal is an excellent exercise in expanding one’s thinking beyond only the material. Mastery of contemplation in this regard imparts the ability to see and navigate abstract realities, such as the emotional, lawful, spiritual, and philosophic realms. Learning this skill is vitally important so as to develop self-mastery and true sovereignty consciousness, the quality of which is capable of acting as a custodian for an enlightened society.

Not sure how to make sense of this? Want to learn how to discern like a pro? Read this essential guide to discernment, analysis of claims, and understanding the truth in a world of deception: 4 Key Steps of Discernment – Advanced Truth-Seeking Tools.

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10 Tales of Legendary Ghost Ships

The sea can be a haunted place, too. Maritime lore is rife with stories about ghost ships, whether at-sea apparitions that bewilder viewers before vanishing into thin air or mysterious vessels found sailing the oceans with no one aboard. The most famous ship in the latter category is likely the Mary Celeste, discovered adrift in the Azores in 1872 without a soul in sight. Its story has continued to fascinate, helped along in part by Arthur Conan Doyle's 1884 short story "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement." But while explanations connected to ships like the Mary Celeste will be endlessly debated, ghostly ship apparitions belong to a different realm—one of the imagination. And while plausible scientific explanations have been put forth to explain these sighting and the legends around them—from optical illusions to rotting vegetation—it can sometimes be fun to consider these tales just for themselves, and their ability to captivate our imaginations.

1. Flying Dutchman

The story usually goes something like this: An anxious captain paces the deck of his massive ship as it struggles against a storm, vowing to pass the Cape of Good Hope whatever the cost. A mysterious voice hears his oath and, as punishment for his recklessness to the crew, condemns him to sail the seas around the Cape for eternity, his glowing ship serving as a warning to other mariners of bad weather and the cost of hubris.

First noted in the late 18 th century, the legend of Flying Dutchman is the most famous story of a phantom vessel in European and American lore. It has inspired the imaginations of Washington Irving, Richard Wagner, Sir Walter Scott, and many others. The earliest accounts describe the apparition in connection with the crew of a Dutch ship lost off the Cape of Good Hope in a storm or due to disease, perhaps as punishment for some kind of horrible crime. An 1821 account in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine introduced the name Captain Hendrick Vanderdecken, said to have sworn an oath vowing to pass the Cape in a storm even if it meant eternal damnation.

Sightings of the Flying Dutchman (the name can refer to both the ship and its captain) have continued into the 19th and 20th centuries. Even Prince George of Wales, the future King George V, described seeing a ship glowing with a “strange red light” off the coast of Australia in 1881. In March 1939, about a dozen people claimed to have seen the vessel off the coast of South Africa. During World War II, German Admiral Karl Dönitz said that members of the crew of one of his U-boats had seen the Dutchman while patrolling off Cape Town. Some reports mention a crew of skeletons dancing in the rigging. Others warn that the ship has the ability to lure other vessels onto the rocks— supposedly the captain is jealous of other ships who might pass the Cape, and will do everything in his power to prevent them, whether that means spoiling their food or ensuring their death in a storm.

2. Baron Falkenberg

Germany’s North Sea is haunted by the legend of the medieval Baron Falkenberg, whose story is said to begin when his long-lost brother returned home rich and planned to marry a village maiden that the baron himself had his eye on. At the wedding feast, the plentiful food and champagne temporarily soothed the baron’s soul. But not for long—according to one telling, the baron’s brother “touched him up in the wrong place,” whereupon the baron picked up a champagne bottle and bashed his brother over the head. The groom fell down dead, and his bride ran screaming into the room. The baron tried to convince her of his love, but she declared she would rather die than accept him. The baron took her declaration literally and stabbed a knife into her heart. Then the baron fled to the beach, where he found a boat and a man who stood up and said "The captain has been expecting you." The baron got into the boat, which took him to a gray ship, and he hasn’t disembarked for 600 years.

Those who have seen the baron’s vessel say it’s always heading north, without helm or helmsmen, and that the masthead flickers with a blue flame—illuminating the sight of the baron on deck, playing dice with the devil for control of his soul.

To make the story even more meta, some historians say it may be connected to a Norse saga in which a Viking sea captain named Stotte stole a magic ring from the gods. As punishment, Stotte was transformed into a living skeleton covered in fire, and condemned to spend the rest of eternity affixed to the mast of a ghostly, black-hulled longship.

3. Yellow Jack

Another centuries-old ghost ship tale concerns a vessel laden with gold and spices that was once preparing to leave the Indies. Before departing, the ship took on an unsavory character known only as "Yellow Jack." Apparently, his reputation was so bad the ship was forbidden to enter any port she called upon, forcing the vessel to endlessly cruise the seas. Eventually, the crew went mad and murdered each other. Some say the ship is still sailing, manned by the ghosts of the dead sailors, forever searching for a port she can enter.

The story may have historical origins connected to shipborne diseases: “yellow jack” is another name for yellow fever, which spread frequently on Atlantic vessels, and the "yellow jack" was historically the flag flown by a ship infected with the plague, cholera, or similar deadly contagion. It seems likely that the unsavory “Yellow Jack” was not so much a person as a pathogen.

4. The Caleuche

The waters around Chile's Chiloe Island are known for terrible storms, and for sightings of the Caleuche—a demon ship with luminescent white sides and blood-red sails. More than just your average ghost ship, the Caleuche is a sentient being who can glide across the surface of the water at impossible speeds or dive beneath it like a whale. Observers say that when it passes, you can hear the cackling of its demon crew, who hop around on one leg and have faces that spin backwards. The ship is also manned by sailors both dead and alive, either dragged from the deep or stolen from passing ships. However, the Caleuche only has use for the officers it finds, and spills the others—driven half-insane—onto local beaches. In other versions of the tales about the ship, it is piloted by the souls of the drowned. Merchants who trade with the boat become suddenly wealthy, while those who see it supposedly wear crooked smiles forever.

5. Lady Lovibond

The Goodwin Sands, off the coast of Kent in southeast England, is famous for a number of shipwrecks, and for several ghost ship legends. The most notable concerns the Lady Lovibond, said to have been deliberately wrecked in the 18th century and to reappear as a phantom every 50 years on the anniversary of its destruction. The story goes that a captain was celebrating his recent marriage with a voyage to Portugal in 1748, bringing his new wife, her mother, and various wedding guests aboard the ship. Unfortunately, the first mate had hoped to be the groom himself. While the wedding party drank toasts to the happy couple, the first mate felt his blood begin to boil. In a jealous rage, he grabbed a wooden pin and struck the helmsman, killing him. Then he drove the schooner directly onto the Goodwin Sands, wrecking the boat and killing everyone aboard.

Supposedly, the glowing ship has reappeared to reenact the crash in 1798, 1848, and 1948, when she reportedly gave off a strange green glow. Locals have even set out to rescue survivors, only to discover the sands are bare.

6. The Palatine Light

If you ever find yourself near Rhode Island's Block Island during the quiet week between Christmas and New Years, try gazing out into the water at night. Supposedly, you just might see an 18 th century ship blazing against the darkness. The apparition is known as the Palatine, or the Palatine Light, and it’s one of Americas best-known ghost ship legends.

While there’s no record of any ship known as the Palatine wrecking in the area, folklorists believe the story might be based on the sad story of another ship. In 1738, the Princess Augusta ran aground on Block Island carrying a load of German Palatines seeking a new life of religious freedom in America. A deposition taken from the crew (though only rediscovered in 1925) recounted that a "fever and flux" had killed many of the passengers and crew, and the acting captain refused to let the starving, shivering passengers go ashore.

While little else is known for sure about the wreck, a story developed over the next century saying that the Block Islanders had lured the ship onto the shoals so they could salvage its contents, then murdered the remaining passengers and burned the ship to conceal their crime. That version of events was enshrined in John Greenleaf Whittier's 1867 poem "The Palatine," which appeared in The Atlantic Monthly and made the story famous.

However, Whittier's version was far different from the one that developed among the Block Islanders, who emphasized their kindness in saving the shipwrecked passengers and nursing them back to health. One historian, Samuel Livermore, blamed the more troubling version of events, and the story of the ghostly apparition, on a notorious local woman known as ''Dutch Kattern," a survivor who stayed on the island and became known as a witch. According to Livermore, Kattern “had her revenge on the ship that put her ashore by imagining it on fire, and telling others, probably, that the light on the sound was the wicked ship Palatine, cursed for leaving her on Block Island." Whether Kattern was responsible for the idea or not, locals continue to insist that many have seen the ship shining at night during that one week each year.

7. Ghost Ship of Northumberland Strait

Since the late 18th century, people have reported seeing a ghostly three-masted schooner on fire in Canada’s Northumberland Strait, the body of water that separates Prince Edward Island from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Sightings seem to occur most often in the Fall some are reported as lasting just a few minutes, while others say they've seen the illusion last as long as an hour. In some cases, would-be rescuers have tried to sail out to help those on board, only to watch the ship vanish as they come close. The story gained popularity after being immortalized in local singer-songwriter Lennie Gallant’s song, "Tales of the Phantom Ship." On Friday, June 13, 2014, Canada Post even launched a postage stamp depicting the ship as part of a "haunted Canada" line.

8. Gardiner's Bay Phantoms

On March 18, 1754, the New York Gazette published a letter written by a group of men from Plum Island, on Long Island's far eastern end, who had been fishing for menhaden in nearby Gardiner's Bay when they saw three ghostly ships. The ships were apparently so close the men could see the sailors walking about on deck. The trio of ships fought a gun battle among themselves for about 15 minutes before silently fading away. More than a century later, in 1882, the New York Sun ran a letter from a menhaden fisherman who also had a spectral tale to tell about Gardiner's Bay. Supposedly, the letter writer had been sleeping on deck when he was awoken by a distraught-looking first mate, who claimed that a giant schooner had appeared out of the darkness heading straight for their boat. Just as it looked like it was about to hit the boat, it dissolved. One theory offered for the sight, and published in Scientific American, argued that the oily menhaden had somehow produced a glow that mirrored the schooner itself.

9. Fireship of Chaleur Bay

According to the city of Bathurst, in New Brunswick, Canada, tens of thousands of people have seen the apparition of a ship that appears to be on fire cruising Chaleur Bay, located between New Brunswick and Quebec. The apparition usually appears at night, sometimes hovering for hours in a single spot and other times skimming across the waves. Viewing it by telescope brings out no details. Scientists have explained the sight, which continues to be seen today, as being caused by St. Elmo's Fire (an electricity phenomenon), inflammable gas released beneath the sea, or phosphorescent marine life. Locals have connected the story to various shipwrecks in the region, including the story of a Portuguese captain who abused local Indians. One woman on Heron Island, a Mrs. Pettigrew, even reported being approached by the specter of a burned sailor who came to her farm house for help. When she turned to rush inside, it brushed past her and she discovered the figure was legless.

10. SS Valencia

It's been called the worst disaster in the "Graveyard of the Pacific," a treacherous stretch of coastal water from Oregon to Vancouver Island. On January 22, 1906, the Valencia, a coastal passenger liner en route from San Francisco to Seattle via Victoria, snagged on a submerged reef on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. Would-be rescuers were thwarted by the jagged, uncharted rocks and a fierce storm, and many lifeboats capsized in the roiling waters. For 36 hours, scores of passengers clung to the deck or the rigging, enduring a series of strategic errors by rescuers and crew. Finally, a giant wave swept most of them out to sea. Only 37 of the 136 passengers survived, and all of the ship's women and children perished. An investigation into the disaster resulted in the creation of the Pachena Point Lighthouse and a life-saving trail for shipwrecked mariners, which later became the West Coast Trail.


The Origin of the Flying Dutchman

The ghostly ship known as the Flying Dutchman has had sightings dating back to the late 1700’s. Seen as a warning sign, the ghostly vessel had been captured by the eyes of countless witnesses for the next 250 years.

Those unlucky enough to catch of glimpse of the frightening ghost ship saw it as a call to turn around and head back home as to not end up like the unfortunate real-life captain of the craft.

According to legend, the captain of the ship then known as simply the Dutchman was an incredibly headstrong individual who was known for pressing his luck against whatever treacherous seas were presented to him.

The actual real-life captain of the mysterious ship was Hendrick van der Decken, a spice, silk, and dye purveyor who would travel from his native Amsterdam to the Far East Indies for merchandise. He would use a well-known midpoint resting stop known as the Cape of Good Hope.

He had traveled from Amsterdam to the Far East Indies and then back again to sell in the large marketplaces of Holland countless times. However, on one trip in 1641, van der Decken would never make it past the Cape of Good Hope just south of South Africa. The waters were particularly treacherous on this trek, and despite the urgings of his crew to turn the ship back around to get back home to Amsterdam, Hendrick was dead set on completing his mission to Southeast Asia for supplies.

Van der Decken was an extremely proud man to a fault. There are several accounts that he was mad and would stop at nothing to reach his goals. Even though all signs pointed to turning back home towards safety, Hendrick forced his crew to push through the storm, and the vessel would be lost forever to the seas.

The ship would be removed from its physical form permanently, but it wouldn’t be the last time the cursed vessel would be seen by countless eye witnesses.

The First Written Account of the Flying Dutchman

Writers, witnesses, and sea goers firmly believed that the ship known as the Flying Dutchman would be forever cursed as a penalty for disobeying the sea’s orders to turn back around.

Visions and sightings of the ghastly craft would come to be taken as a warning sign for all future ship captains to turn their ships around to avoid becoming members of the eternal crew of the Flying Dutchman.

The very first public account of the vessel that was previously believed to never be seen again, would take place in 1790.

Writer John McDonald would go on to reference this lost ship in his particularly long titled book, “Travels, in various part of Europe, Asia and Africa, during a series of thirty years and upward.”

“The weather was so stormy that the sailors said they saw the Flying Dutchman. The common story is that this Dutchman came to the Cape in distress of weather and wanted to get into harbour but could not get a pilot to conduct her and was lost and that ever since in very bad weather her vision appears.” McDonald wrote.

Other Flying Dutchman References

McDonald’s account would be the first of many public descriptions that would go on to increase in numbers throughout the years and would reach its most notable head in the form of the 1843 opera appropriately titled, “The Flying Dutchman.”

The highly successful opera would go on to burn this ghoulish image of an ethereal ship filled with a ghost crew and a captain that would be forever condemned to the seas in the minds of everyone that saw the piece.

With each and every written account thereafter, the legitimacy of the ship would only continue to grow.

In 1881, future king of the United Kingdom, George V, would be aboard a vessel with a crew member that saw the apparition right in the approximate location of where the Flying Dutchman was last seen. This witness would go on to fall to his death from atop the bird’s nest of the topmost. This entire event would spark belief in the future king who would go on to write his account of the ghost ship.

Sightings and accounts would go on to die down until World War II, when British, German, and American soldiers would begin to see the ship in the same location as the other sightings, fully bringing the lore back to life.

With so many notable accounts from countless individuals, the question asked by those who were skeptical was how something like this could be possible.

Ghosts can’t possibly exist in our world, so what was causing so many people to see the Flying Dutchman over a 250-year period?

The Most Logical Reason for the Flying Dutchman

The most common and reasonable explanation is based on a natural phenomenon known as Fata Morgana. This phenomenon is a type of mirage that is created by the bending of beams of light through varying levels of differing temperatures. Also known as a superior mirage, Fata Morgana can be seen when the air underneath the visible line of sight is much cooler than the warm air above it.

Any source of light that enters this perfect ingredient list for distortion will create an image. The Cape of Good Hope offers all of the ingredients necessary to create this other worldly image.

This image could have been seen as just about anything, but due to hundreds of years of accounts of a ghost ship at this exact location, anyone that would go on to see anything would immediately label it as the Flying Dutchman. Unfortunately, for those unlucky enough to see the spirit ship, the fact that the trading path is used by countless others is another big reason that people swear that they see the Flying Dutchman.

The light will bend around the curve of the Earth and illuminate ships that are actually over the horizon and out of the natural viewing range.

This projection effect will make a ghost ship appear, but by the time the sighting vessel makes it to the location of the appearance, the apparition disappears because it is no longer in optimal position to see a distorted image. The power of suggestion is an incredibly strong thing.

Coupling the natural phenomenon of bending light at the Cape with the history of the ghostly vessel made for a perfect storm of details leading to countless individuals truly believing that they indeed saw the Flying Dutchman.

Another very unfortunate phenomena that only heightens the levels of eeriness and occurs in areas like the Cape of Good Hope is known as looming. This separate refraction of light makes the object being observed appear as if it is floating in midair.

The projections established by Fata Morgana create the image that originates outside of the natural field of view, and the looming effect raises the projected image above the horizon line. This makes for a ghost ship that appears to be floating through the air.


So do these sightings mean that The Flying Dutchman is indeed a ghost ship whose sad tale has a basis in fact? If it is, those facts are hard if not impossible to verify. For a real-life sea captain named Hendrick Van der Decken does not seem to have existed. Some sources have attempted to link Van Der Decken to the seventeenth-century Dutch captain called Bernard Fokke whose suspiciously speedy sea voyages between Java and the Netherlands led to rumors that he was in league with the devil. This link, however, is as much a thing of conjecture as the legend.

However, what is true is that the Cape of Good Hope was a notorious place for shipping disasters. First navigated in 1488 by the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias, the treacherous stretch of sea at the tip of South Africa was known for its unpredictable weather, strong currents, and treacherous rocky outcrops. Such was the Cape&rsquos reputation that it was first named &ldquoThe cape of storms&rdquo before being renamed &ldquoThe Cape of Good Hope&rdquo by John II of Portugal because of the dubious shortcut it offered to India by sea.

Many ships did recklessly risk this shortcut for the same reasons as Captain Van der Decken in the legend. So, perhaps the legend of The Flying Dutchman does indeed immortalize them and their reckless Captains. However, the concept of ghost ships and souls doomed to wander the earth is as old as time. For shipwrecks off the coast of South Africa notwithstanding, some of the motifs found in the tale of The Flying Dutchman have been around since Classical times.

&ldquoMirages of Boats&rdquo from &ldquoRound-about Rambles in Lands of Fact and Fancy&rdquo by Frank R Stockton. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

Ulysses&rsquo seemingly endless ten-year quest to return home to the love of a good woman and the cursed roaming of &ldquoThe Wandering Jew&rdquo both echo the Dutchman&rsquos never-ending voyage. Then there is the idea of the ghost ship, which seems to have its basis in the Teutonic belief that the dead crossed the water to the afterlife in boats.

So, if the Flying Dutchman is nothing more than a fable, how do we explain how and why so many people have recorded seeing the phantom vessel? Optical illusions or mirages known as Fata Morgana seems to be one explanation. Such illusions are caused by the reflections of ships sailing some distance away from the viewing vessel. If the atmospheric conditions are correct, the sun&rsquos rays can form a distorted image of these ships in the air and project it miles away from the original ship. The decline of sailing ships means that the likelihood of seeing a mirage based on one of them is slim- thus explaining why there have been no sightings of The Flying Dutchman since the first half of the twentieth century.


Watch the video: The Flying Dutchman - A Phantom Ship and Crew (May 2022).