Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ghost Ship: The Flying Dutchman

The tale of the Flying Dutchman has been told for 100s of years. The phantom vessel in this story is always seen during stormy weather off the Cape of Good Hope or in the North Sea. 

The term “Flying Dutchman” actually refers to the captain not the ship he sails. There are many versions of his story. The two told most often follow.

One legend states that a very stubborn Dutch sea captain was struggling to round the Cape of Good Hope. He had fought a strong head wind all day, when other vessels asked if he would take refuge in the bay he laughed and shook his fist at the wind and swore he would not give up. 

His crew pleaded with him to head to safety but the captain appearing to be mad refused to change course.

The captain broke into obscene songs, before heading below to his cabin to drink beer and smoke his pipe. Monstrous waves pummeled the sides of the ship, howling winds bent the masts and tore the sails, but still the captain held his course. 

To the crew’s horror he even challenged the wrath of God by swearing a blasphemous oath.

His men feeling the captain was surely mad, mutinied. But the drunken captain was awakened by the clamor and shot and killed the leader of the rebellion. He threw his body overboard. 

Legend states that the moment the body hit the water a shadowy figure appeared on the quarterdeck of the ship. A voice stated, “You are a very stubborn man.” The captain insolently replied, “I never asked for a peaceful passage, I never asked for anything. So clear off before I shoot you too.”

The figure didn’t move. Drawing his pistol, the captain tried to fire but the gun exploded in his hand. 

The figure spoke once more, “for this you are accursed, because of your actions you are condemned to sail the oceans for eternity, with a ghostly crew of dead men. You will bring death to all who spot your spectral ship and you will never be allowed to make port or know a moments peace. Furthermore, gale should be your drink, and red hot iron your meat.”

Defiant to the end the captain replied, “Amen to that.”

The second maritime version of this story always leaves out a lot of details. Again, the captain has been fighting the storm all day and refuses to take refuge in port. 

In this version he makes a rash bet with the devil for his soul that he can make it around the cape. He loses the bet and is doomed to sail for all eternity. 

In sightings, the captain is described as being alone on the ship; he is often described as being slumped over, as if he carries the weight of the world on his back. 

Witnesses have even reported seeing him place the initial bet with the devil, by rolling the dice over and over. He is heard pleading for mercy.

In both versions the the captain and his ship become the classic harbinger. It is always stated that those seamen who encounter him are cursed or doomed. 

Each version of the Flying Dutchman has him named differently: Van der Decken, Fokkeis, Van Demien, and Van Straaten etc.

For centuries the Flying Dutchman has been seen by witnesses piloting his spectral ship, it is most often spotted during violent wind storms. 

Some reports state the captain and his ship have led other ships astray, onto rocky shoals and hidden reefs. It is believed sightings of this phantom turns other ships' food supplies sour. 

This warning is always given-- even though this ship looks innocent other vessels should not draw alongside. The reason for this is if other ships accept letters to be delivered and these letters are opened by the living their ship’s will then flounder. 

Witnesses who have reported seeing the captain describe him as bareheaded, and clasping the wheel on the quarterdeck. He is always heard pleading to the heavens for mercy. 

Other witnesses have described in detail a crew of skeletons in the rigging, grinning miserably as they put on more sail. 

A recent reported sighting of the Flying Dutchman's ship was by a German submarine boat during World War ll. 

Yet another sighting occurred in 1835. A British ship spotted the phantom sails approaching them during a violent storm. The ship came so close that the British crew feared they might collide with the ghostly vessel but it vanished suddenly.

In July of 1881, the Royal Navy ship H.M.S. Bacchante was rounding the tip of Africa, when they spotted the Flying Dutchman's ship. A young midshipman, a prince who later became King George V, recorded that a lookout and officer of the watch both had seen the eerie vessel.

“A strange red light as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the midst of which the mast, spars and sails of a brig 200 yards distant stood out in strong relief.”

The lookout succumbed to the curse for he fell from the mast and died.

As recently as March of 1939 the Flying Dutchman's ship was seen by dozens of sunbathers off the coast of South Africa. 

These witnesses supplied specific details and descriptions of the ship although most had never seen a 17th century merchant ship. Following is one account:

“With uncanny volition, the ship sailed steadily on as the Glencaim beach folk stood keenly discussing the whys and wherefores of the vessel. Just as the excitement reached its climax, however, the mystery ship vanished into thin air as strangely as it had come.”

The last recorded sighting of the this ghostly vessel was in 1942 off the coast of Cape Town. Four witnesses saw the ship sail into Table Bay and then disappear.

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