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THE CURSE OF THE FLYING DUTCHMAN

Posted on: January 6, 2012

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A 17th century Dutch Captain by the name of Cornelius Vanderdecken refused to heed weather warnings and insisted on sailing around the Cape of Storms, now known as the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, in horrendous weather. Vanderdecken was reputed to have been a tough, hard-talking, stubborn character, with little regard for the safety of his crew or his ship. He is said to have sworn that he would sail round the Cape if it took him all eternity to do it. Fateful words as it would turn out.

The ship was lost in the storm, and legend has it that he was from then on condemned to sail the seas for all eternity. The appearance of his ghostly ship is said to be a portent of doom and disaster. There are other versions to the story. One is that he gambled with the Devil on deck and lost, hence doomed to sail for all eternity. Yet another version has it that a goddess appeared on deck, was treated ungallantly by the crew, and in revenge she doomed them all to sail forever. The composer Richard Wagner turned the story into an opera, and added the touch that he could go ashore once every seven years to try and win redemption by claiming the hand of a virgin maiden.

It all makes a good story, and you could be forgiven for thinking that is all it is, but no, ‘The Flying Dutchman’ has been sighted, more than once. She was seen off the Cape in 1923. Fourth Officer N K Stone said the ship was sighted at a quarter-past midnight, when a luminous light appeared in front of them. Gradually the crew made out the shape of an old-fashioned ship steaming towards them at full speed. The Second Officer made the immortal comment “My God Stone, it’s a ghost ship!”

It was also sighted back in the 1880s when the future King George V (whom it has to be said, wasn’t the most overly-imaginative and fanciful of men), then a lad of 16, was serving in the Pacific on HMS Bacchante. He noted in the ship’s log on 11 July 1881: ”

at 4 AM ‘The Flying Dutchman’ crossed our bows. She emitted a strange phosphorescent 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 the officer watch from the bridge saw her, as did the quarter-deck midshipman, who was sent forward at once to the forecastle, but on arriving there 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 people altogether saw her”.

The Flying Dutchman’s status as a portent of doom was enhanced (if that’s the word) when a seaman on the Bacchante fell to his death from a mast-top.

In March 1939 around 100 people sunbathing on Glencairn Beach, near Capetown, saw the grim vessel appearing spookily out of a heat haze. The ship vanished as quickly and silently as it had appeared.

Whatever the truth of this story, The Flying Dutchman is a perennial favourite in supernatural folklore, and likely to remain so.

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