Many of you have heard of the mysterious Flying Dutchman but not many know the whole story.
On the tip of South Africa in 1939 on the sands of Glencairn beach some 60 people soaked up the sun. Out of the haze, sailed a full rigged East
Indiaman that had not been in the waters off the cape for several centuries. The first people who noticed called to others to look and soon everyone
on the beach stood to look at the ship.
The newspaper report from the next day reported the ship “with all her sails drawing well, although there was not a breath of wind at the time,
appeared to be standing toward Muizenberg.”
The British South Africa Annual
of 1939 reported:
With uncanny volition the ship sailed steadily on as the Glencairn beach folk, shaken from their lethargy, stood about keenly discussing the
whys and wherefores of the vessel which seemed to be bent on self-destruction somewhere on the sands of Strandfontein. Just as the excitement reached
its climax, however, the mystery ship vanished into thin air as strangely as it had come.
The only explanation that held any water was that the watchers at Glencairn had seen a mirage and that the mystery ship was, by some accident of light
refraction, the image of a ship sailing several hundred miles away.
Problems with Science
As those who had sighted the ship pointed out, the broad, squat hull and high poop, and even the rigging, were unlike those of any modern sailing
ship. It was unmistakably a 17th century merchantman.
Another problem there was not one ship at see during the time of the sighting that in the very least matched the description given by the beachgoers.
Among the witnesses on the beach that day was Helen Tydell she stated:
Let the skeptics say what they will, that ship was none other than the Flying Dutchman
Even before the story inspired Richard Wagner to write his opera, Der Fliegende
, the Flying Dutchman legend had been known to many generations of sailors around the world.
The Facts of the Dutchman
Old records show that in 1680 a Dutch East Indiaman captained by Hendrik Vanderdecken
sailed from Amsterdam for the Dutch East Indies
settlement at Batavia. Vanderdecken, a man of fearless and adventurous disposition, apparently had few principles and an unsavory reputation. But he
was a skilled seaman, and the owners had few qualms about giving him command of the vessel, in spite of his boasts in the waterfront wine shops that
he would return with a fortune.
All Seemed to have gone well with Vanderdecken and his crew as they sailed south through the tropical seas, but near the Cape of Good Hope a sudden
tropical gale tore the sails to shreds and wrecked the rudder. For weeks the vessel foundered off the cape, unable to make headway against the
battering force of a southeasterly gale.
The ship never made it to Batavia.
The Legend of the Dutchman
Enter the legend, or shall we say the juicy part of the story. According to legend, Vanderdecken became increasingly furious as every trick of
navigation and seamanship he tried failed to bring him around the cape.
Taking advantage of Vanderdeckens state of mind, the Devil, suggested to him in a dream that he should defy God’s attempt to stop him from rounding
the cape. In a rage the Dutch sea captain took up the challenge in a famous quote generations of seaman know all too well:
With frantic mien the appalling oath he took,
And loudly cried above the tempest’ dim:
“My destined course and resolute career
The power of God I thus defy to stay
Nor shall the Fiend of Hell awake my fear
Though I should cruise until the Judgment Day.”
Who first quoted the damned captain’s words is not known. However, retribution came swiftly as the angel of the Lord commanded that Vanderdecken must
keep his vigil until doomsday.
Since 1680 there have been countless sightings of his ship reported. Any ship that sights the phantom is said soon to encounter bad luck.
The most famous sighting was in 1880 when the future King George V
, then a midshipman on the HMS Bacchante
, saw the doomed ship and a
figure in ancient dress on her poop as the Bacchante
sailed 50 miles off the cape. The next day a member of the crew fell from the rigging and
One of the first recorded sightings was by the captain and crew of a British ship in 1835. They recorded that they saw the phantom ship approaching in
the shroud of a terrible storm. It came so close that the British crew feared the two ships might collide, but then the ghost ship suddenly
On January 24 1923 the ship appeared before four witnesses. Fourth Officer NK Stone reported seeing the ship yet where it sails should be all that
remained was a luminous mist. The second officer remarked “Oh my God, it is a ghost ship”. The second and Fourth officer confirmed the sighting yet
the cadet and helmsman that also witnessed the ship vanished.
In September 1942, four people sitting on their balcony in Cape Town saw the ghostly East Indiaman sail into Table Bay and vanish behind Robben
In 1996 The Australian Aircraft Carrier, HMAS Anzac, sighted the Dutchman, and promptly warped a propeller shaft, causing major at-sea repairs and
In 1999 a South African excursion boat full of vacationers which foundered and sank after sighting the damned ship, killing 17 of the passengers.
The scientific view continues to be that what everyone has seen is mirages of ships 100’s of miles away.
However the one thing that science has not and cannot explain is the constant similarities of detail given by those who have seen the East Indiaman-
or the fact that ships of her type last sailed more than 200 years ago.
Strange Stories, Amazing Facts, Readers Digest. 1980
Artistic Representation of the Flying Dutchman
[edit on 19-6-2004 by BlackJackal]