Sailors have always been a superstitious lot. There is reason for them to be since their lives depend on the strength, skill and sanity of their captain and fellow crew as well as the weather and the unknown that lies deep in the depths of the water. Not only did sailors have these to fear, but they had the devil and God to fear as well. If anyone felt the need to goad the devil or curse and blasphemy God, this was sometimes more fearful than the creatures they might find living in the dark deadly depths of the ocean.
It is important to note that The Flying Dutchman is not a ship. The Flying Dutchman is the captain of the spectral ship that sails the tip of Africa.
There are various versions of the Flying Dutchman and his ship;
however, there are some common themes in each of the versions. The
Dutch version has Captain van Straaten vowing to sail around the Cape of
Storms (aka the Cape of Good Hope). Before the ship could succeed
a horrible storm came upon them. Despite pleas and common sense, the captain
refused to turn around. The ship and crew were lost. It is believed
that the ship and crew are doomed to sail this route during
The German version has Captain Von Falkenburg sailing the North Sea. It is believed that the captain was a gambling man who sported and goaded the devil one night in a game of chance. With a single throw of the dice the captain was condemned to his ship forever. Some say the devil gave the captain an out - if he could find a virgin maiden to take him as her husband he would be free.
In the British version, the captain and his crew were sailing around
the Cape of Good Hope in 1821 when a deadly and fierce storm struck.
The crew pleaded with the captain who refused to return to a safe harbor,
instead the captain mocked them and their fears. The captain then
strode to the front of the deck, planted his feet, and shook his fists
to the sky screaming a challenge to God Almighty. Blasphemy spewed
from his lips taunting God to sink his ship. What made the Captain
so angry and careless is not known. But God must have heard him clearly
for a ghostly figure appeared on the deck facing him.
In the different versions it is clear that the captain is to blame for his own fate and the fate of his crew. No one can say who the captain was or the true name of the ship. Was this information lost or is it the boogeyman tale of the sea?
The captain's ship has been sighted many times over the years by dozens of people. One witness was a prince of England who became King George V. On July 11, 1881 the Flying Dutchman was seen by crew from the Royal Navy Ship HMS Bacchante as they sailed off the tip of Africa. One witness to the ship met his death shortly afterward.
On January 24, 1923 there were four witnesses to the sighting. Fourth Officer N. K. Stone reported seeing a sailing ship with no visible sails surrounded in a luminous mist. The ship moved quickly and silently disappearing as suddenly as it appeared. Second Officer Bennett, a Cadet and a Helmsman witnessed the apparition as well. Both Bennett and Stone confirmed the sighting, but the cadet and helmsman could not be found.
During WWII a German submarine crew reportedly saw the ship as well. 1942 is the last reported sighting of the Flying Dutchman. The witnesses reported the derelict ship sailed into Table Bay and vanished.
It is believed that the Flying Dutchman is responsible for food that goes sour on ships, lone ships that meet a disastrous end, deaths of crew, and the veracity of storms that visit the Cape of Good Hope. Is this just a tale to make Captains more humble? To make crews more docile?
We know that God does not tolerate arrogance. Look in the Bible and you will see that each breach of arrogance has been punished severely. We also know that the devil is one that loves his sport. Regardless of whom the captain riled with his behavior, one thing is certain - he sails. His ship and crew will continue to labor through the perilous storms and the towering waves until the world is no more.