The mysterious ghost ship The Flying Dutchman, recently brought back to fame by the Pirates of the Caribbean films is actually a long-standing nautical legend dating from around the 17th century. The name ‘Flying Dutchman’ refers to the ship’s infamous captain Hendrik van der Decken, but it has become known as the name of the vessel over time, it is a phantom ship doomed to sail the seas forever as punishment for the evil behaviour of the captain and crew.
The Flying Dutchman has been sighted many times over the last few hundred years, usually from afar or on the horizon around the Cape of Good Hope and sometimes described as having a ghostly light around it. The ship often appears during storms and is considered an omen or portent of doom to anyone who sees it especially if they are also on board a ship. Mariners used to nail horseshoes to the masts of their vessels in an attempt to ward off the Dutchman and any bad luck associated with it. Most versions of the story behind the doomed ship tell of a horrible crime that took place on board or sometimes of a disease that infected the crew, due to the crime or illness the ship was not allowed to sail into port anywhere and was therefore condemned to sail forever.
In one Dutch version of the tale, the ship’s captain, here known as ‘van Straaten’, was an arrogant man who claimed he could sail around the Cape of Good Hope, he said he would not retreat even if faced with a terrible storm, the ship was lost during the voyage however and the dead crew still sail the seas today. A German version of the legend says the captain, this time called van Flakenberg, engaged in a game with the devil, he subsequently lost and was condemned to a living death aboard his ship, never allowed to set foot on land again.
The Flying Dutchman is said to have been seen as recently as 1923 at the Cape of Good Hope – the ship’s legendary home which is known for its treacherous sailing conditions, the ship was seen from land just on the horizon although many say it was simply a trick of the light. The last recorded sighting of the ship was in 1942 off the coast of Cape Town; four people saw the Dutchman sail into Table Bay... and simply vanish.