Saturday, April 6, 2013

F is for Flying Dutchman

Another popular mystery.

 is for Flying Dutchman.

Spectral ships are a popular tale. I'll be talking about another famous one later on in the alphabet (bet you can guess which one!).

The Flying Dutchman has long been said to be a portent of death to any ship who sights her. Sailors speak of her in hushed voices. Tales have been told through the centuries of an old tattered ship pulling abreast of another ship. Some say they try to pass letters to the modern ship, hoping that they will be passed on to loved ones in real life.

Whether you believe in the Flying Dutchman or not, she has been sighted by sailors and beach-goers alike, as well as those working lighthouses. Sightings have been recorded in ship's logs. George V, while still a Prince of Wales, sighted her in 1881, along with crew members. The next day, one of their crew died. In 1923 a British Navy crew saw her for fifteen minutes and turned in documentation, which included a drawing.

Funnily enough, though sightings are numerous, there are no reports of a ship actually being sunk after seeing the Flying Dutchman. Who knows? Maybe she's just warning people away from something bad. Some of the reports said the ships had to change course, as the Flying Dutchman was heading straight for them. Why hasn't anyone thought of that possibility before?

The Flying Dutchman. By Creator:Charles Temple Dix ([1])
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Often, she disappears as people watch, sometimes into a mist, sometimes just into thin air.

The thing about the Flying Dutchman is that it's been told so many different ways that there is no one origin story, so I'll tell you the main one.

Captain Van D (many Dutch names have been assigned, so I'm just going with a nickname) and his crew were rounding the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa when they ran into a storm. He was sailing for the Dutch East India Company, and was determined to get his shipment to its destination in time. Faced with a massive storm, he forged ahead, ordering his crew to keep going. Some say they perished at sea, and for his behavior toward his crew, he is forced to sail the seas forever. Other say he challenged the heavens, or possibly Satan, and they were all cursed to stay on the ship forever.

Our mystery here is why groups of people have reported seeing this ship for centuries. Is she really a ghost ship? Is it a real ship that's been sailing all these years? A mass hallucination? How about an optical illusion, as has been suggested?

What do you think? Is she real? If not, how do you explain Naval officers, lighthouse keepers, and sunbathers seeing her at the same time?

May you find your Muse.

Letter F courtesy of Mohammed Ibrahim,


  1. Fascinating post. She's probably a real ghost ship. Heck. There are ghostly images on land, why not on sea?

  2. A wonderful tale. There are many unexplained things in our universe, and what fun to weave our thought into the story. Visiting from A-Z

  3. Wow! I thought the Flying Dutchman was a character made up for SpongeBob SquarePants.

    Charlie @ The Semi-Retired Gamer

  4. Thank you for this! You know, although I've been this name all my life , I've never know the story behind it until I read it here. The story in our family is very personal and was told to me by my mother about my grandmother, who died before I was born.

    My grandmother had had a stroke and her speech was impaired. She knew what she wanted to say, but different words would come out. One day, when her doctor was arriving (home visit--almost unheard of in the U.S. but this was early post-War Britain) she said, "Here comes the Flying Dutchman." Everybody laughed--not at, but with her, because he was a nice man, but always in a hurry, so the name was very apt.

    Now, after having read your post, I am wondering whether the words had another, more ominous meaning.

  5. I can't stop picturing Captain Jack Sparrow on board. But my mind is limited like that. :)

  6. I love mysterious ships like this. If it is an optical illusion, it should appear always in the same way, in the same place and disappear in the same fashion, I think.

  7. I knew the tale and I loved how it was adapted for Pirates. Gorgeous painting, too!

  8. Sailors are a superstitious bunch, but that still doesn't explain all the non-sailors who claim to have seen the Dutchman. Maybe there really is a ghost ship

  9. Ghosts roam buildings - why not a ghost ship roaming the ocean? And sounds more like she is a warning rather than a bringer of trouble.

  10. It's more fun to think of these things as real. Mysteries and legends add a lot of spice to life. Happy F!

  11. As a warning ship, I like it. As a ghost pirate ship, I'd think its purpose would be to sink other ships to get their loot. (Remember the P of the C - the ghosts hoard it)

    I agree that if we can have ghosts on land, why not at sea?

  12. I don't think it is a ghost ship, probably a hallucination.
    Katie atBankerchick Scratchings

  13. I think it is a ship!

    Thanks for sharing the story, I have heard of it, but never knew the back ground.

  14. Whatever one's theory of the mystery, you can count on there being creative interpretations by singularly or collective minds like the ones you have mentioned in this post and several by the commenters. Comment by Josna being my favorite and Dix's painting being next.
    Sue CollectInTexasGal
    AtoZ LoneStar Quilting Bee

  15. I believe in the Flying Dutchman. Its "sailing path" is close to where I live.

    And there's a town where the ship is said to moor. Sometimes, when the mists roll in, the townsfolk can hear the captain shouting and cursing at his crew.

    And the thing is... I don't think there's such a thing as mass hallucinations.

  16. That is really creepy! I love the legend - I guess it isn't just a punishment of mean Capt van D if the whole crew is forced to stay on the ship with him, huh? I'm afraid I'll believe it's an optical illusion until someone comes up with video evidence. :-)

  17. I have always wondered about tales like this. Could so many people make this up?

  18. The Flying Dutchman is an opera by Wagner, if it's nothing else.

  19. My rational brain tells me that it's, probably, an optical illusion but my creative side hopes it's an honest to gosh real ghost ship :)

  20. Well Shannon, I am NOT going with aliens this time. It must be some subconscious imagery from hearing the stories, coupled with the sea and atmosphere playing tricks on the eyes.

    Illusion it is!

    And I cannot guess your mystery ship upcoming...

    Chuck at Apocalypse Now

  21. I don't know that these kinds of sightings are any more useful than the disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle. There's just no ONE reason.

  22. Either way, it's a great story, but I like to think it's real. So many things can happen in open water.

  23. Sound like stories of other mysteries like Big Foot. Tons of people report seeing something similar, but there's no physical proof. Just a good mystery that is fascinating.

  24. Oh, I didn't know about this! How creepy. I have to go with ghost ship.

  25. I think it is said when one person sees a ghost, others soon follow. It is a mass hallucination type thing I've read.

  26. I think it's either an optical illusion (that was actually my first instinct before I even read that part in your post), or a "ghost." I think it's more a situation where, when something with a high intensity of emotion happens, it can leave an energetic image that people see... not even necessarily really there, but something people imagine when something similarly scary is going on.

    From A to Z, Kristen's blog:

  27. Excellent post. I love little bits of history like this.

  28. I think that it would be easy to have visions at sea, especially in the old days when maintaining a healthy diet on board ship wasn't a possibility for most sailors. Much like the desert, I'm sure the ocean will play tricks on you. :)

  29. Hi Shannon,

    Another posting for much contemplation. I'm not sure it can be explained by some natural mirage on the sea if so many have observed the same sighting at the same time. So many mysteries an the answer is...

    All the best, Shannon and enjoy your Sunday.


  30. I like the idea that it's warning other ships from disaster since it met disaster itself

    mysterys abound on the sea

  31. I tend to stay away from explaining mysteries

    a) because mysteries are important to life
    b) and they resolve themselves over time (see "is the earth round?", "are diseases a curse from the gods?"
    c) and any explanation I give has high potential for pissing people off, and I do that enough anyway :P

    That being said, I really loved reading about this because when I was a kid, "The Flying Dutchman" always struck me as a funny name for a haunted mystery, so I usually only got as far as the name.

    Now I've had the chance to get a true overview. Thank you, Shannon :)

  32. Oh, these keep getting better! Love the painting of the phantom ship - for some reason I can't get the image of Johnny Depp outta my head now *shakes fist at Hollywood brainwashing*

  33. Joyce, I'd buy it being a real ship more than the trick on the eyes.

    Marti, it is fun, certainly!

    Oh, Charlie, no!

    Josna, thank you for sharing such a personal story. If it was just about the doctor, that's funny. I wonder if she'd heard the story?

    MB, that's doubly funny because I just commented to someone who was talking about Hunter S. Thompson that he'll forever look like Johnny Depp in my head.

    Al, that could be true. Plus, if it were an optical illusion, would everyone on a beach see it the exact same way? You'd think there'd be a limited window of space to see it a certain way.

    Marcy, I like how they did the stories in Pirates to take "real" myths and make them part of it.

    Maple, that was the interesting part. Plus, we're talking modern military for some of the sightings, as well.

    Alex, I'd agree more on the warning than that she brings bad, because I found no proof of terrible things happening other than one guy falling to his death the next day. Sounds coincidental to me.

    Mary, definitely! If we can't believe in these sorts of things, it takes away some of the fun.

    D.G., certainly! How many have been lost at sea? Plenty to make ghosts out there, forever roaming the oceans.

    Katie, aw, but hallucinations are no fun!

    Deb, glad to! Stories like this one have so many fun tales attached to them.

    Sue, that is exactly why I'm loving the comments on these posts so much! I'm having so much fun reading the stories and experiences people attach to each topic.

    Misha, that's so cool! Thanks for sharing. If they've got to be sailing forever, it's nice that they can moor sometimes.

  34. possibly real...but all i can think of is the flying dutchman from spongebob! :D

  35. Lexa, how cool would a video of it be??

    Betty, and the crazy thing is they all described it the same.

    Bob, ha! Wonder which one was around first?

    Mark, I think a ghost ship would be awesome!

    Chuck, gasp! No aliens? I mean, they could be projecting the ship with specialized lasers.

    Andrew, true, different experiences, different sources.

    Robin, one reason I'm afraid of boats! It feels hopeless to sink, with nowhere to go. Perfect for a ghostly tale.

    Patricia, part of me wants proof, and part of me doesn't. Seems like proof would come with a real story that would kill the mystery.

    Christine, yes!

    Julie, yay! I like that better than optical illusion or hallucination!

    J Keith, well, darn it!

    Kristen, I do believe energy can leave an imprint.

    History Sleuth, me, too! I was excited to see the theme of your blog.

    Ashley, true, but modern day sailors have seen her, too.

    Gary, a mass hallucination or optical illusion of this breadth would be almost equally impressive.

  36. Great post for F. WHile i think the name is popular, I'm not sure many people know the backstory of the Dutchman other than what they said on the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies. Another great post. Enjoy your break tomorrow and I'm looking forward to your post on Monday.
    We Are Adventure

  37. Lady's Knight, I like the warning aspect best, too. They don't seem to be sinking anyone.

    Jason, even better is that they said it was the captain that was named the Flying Dutchman, not the ship, but that the ship's name has been lost to history.

    Sam, haha! I know, darned JD is the perfect pirate!

    Tammy, darn it! You're the second one!

  38. Elliot, you enjoy your break, too! And it's true, I think the name is commonly known, but the story isn't.

  39. Had forgot about this mystery, liked your theory, a warning. Nice post, happy A to Z.

  40. Kind of exciting and creepy at the same time. :)

  41. Well I wouldn't rule anything out. I like your theory about her being a benevolent force.

  42. This post reminds me of Pirates of the Carribean, I think it's true!! Love the post for F!!

  43. wowoow
    I was so excited reading this that I could almost imaging the Flying Dutch man
    Fascinating !!!
    A nature's wonder or some thing unexplainable like many things
    Loved ur post Shannon !
    Do write the other one too

    A fellow A to Zer
    Good lck :)

  44. I'd heard of The Flying Dutchman before but didn't have a real good idea of the story before now. Thanks!

    And I'm really enjoying this series of posts! :)

  45. I love these kinds of stories! Great post :)

  46. Part of me thinks it's a hallucination, but if different people have witnessed the same ghost ship, then I'd think it was a spirit. Excellent post!

    Jackie @ Bouquet of Books

  47. This reminded me of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies! I never realized how much history they actually snuck into the movies, even though the stories were fictional.

    I don't really know what to think. I think a lot of the stories are made up for attention, but maybe its somebody trying to warn you. Go the other way, turn back, etc. I'd like to think its something positive, at least, instead of something horrible like being trapped on a ship for all of eternity.

  48. What a fascinating story. Are all the accounts similar as to the size and shape of the ship? Keep in mind rogue waves were seen as a myth until just recently, too.

  49. Hi Shannon, I didn't know the complete tale of the Flying Dutchman. Very interesting. It is a curious mystery for which I am not sure I have any suppositions. It is curious to contemplate though. I am sure it will ponder it now throughout the week. Enjoying your A to Z posts. Thanks. God bless, Maria Delight Directed Living

  50. Oooh, very cool. I love this.

  51. Oooh, very cool. I love this.

  52. Your A to Z theme is nicely creepy this year :)

  53. I agree with ghosts on land, why not at sea? We need some ghosts in the Mile High Club :)

    I like the idea of it being a warning sign, being no harm seems to have ever come from it.

  54. Illusions? Hallucinations? Ghosts? No matter what--this ship will continue to sail the seas!

  55. This post makes me think of the Loch Ness monster, another mystery thing from the water.

  56. I know the name of the next one, but I'll have to wait for M won't I?
    Who knows what happens at sea? It's a mysterious place with much going on that's unexplained (think Bermuda Triangle). I live near the sea and I believe she can be calm and beautiful but ferocious and dangerous the next day.

  57. Who knows if it's real or not? maybe Jack Sparrow? ;) we should ask him...

    another great post.

  58. Maggie, I prefer to think of it that way. Plus, as one person died, and that's it, it being about killing people just wouldn't make sense.

    Bames, yes, I like that. Exciting and creepy.

    Nick, it's nicer to think of it that way, isn't it?

    Sunday, I love that you believe it!

    Afshan, so nice of you to say, thank you!

    Madeline, I'm so glad you were enjoying them, thank you!

    Jess, I have always enjoyed these kinds of mysteries. My grandma had the coolest set of books about stuff like this, but they got ruined.

    Jackie, it can go either way, can't it?

    Rachel, I so loved that they wrapped it into Pirates of the Caribbean.

    Melanie, ack, rogue waves freak me out! I found somewhere that people describing and/or drawing it had seen it the same way.

    Maria, I enjoy hearing that it made you think/ponder.

    S. Eva, thanks!

    Trisha, oooo, thank you. Couldn't ask for a better compliment. :)

    Jak, yeah, why aren't there Mile High ghosts? Maybe because gremlins scare them away?

    Susan, we can hope!

    Cynthia, I love Nessie! Did you know we have several versions in the U.S.? There's one in the Great Lakes, and one in Chesapeake Bay (Chessie). I should have written about them, eh?

    Susan, I agree on the sea. Beautiful and placid one second, vicious the next. I hope you guessed M correctly!

    Adriana, I will happily ask Jack Sparrow. Send him my way!