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The Flying Dutchman: Facts and Legends

Updated on September 3, 2011

The legend of the Flying Dutchman is one of those stories that the crew might pass along when a ship is in trouble. There are various versions of the story, all with similarities shared with the legends and myths that preceded it. But one thing is for sure: the Flying Dutchman is a ghost ship that warnes the beholder of impending tragedy...

The Flying Dutchman prop from the Disney Movies Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Man's Chest and At World's End, and to the left, the Disney Wonder

The Legend of the Flying Dutchman

The first Flying Dutchman Legend was written in 1795, when Irish pickpocket George Barrington wrote his "Voyage to Botany Bay". According to his report, sailors told a story of a Dutch ship that got lost at sea during a horrendous storm. The same ship later wrecked other ships in bouts of ghastly fog. This was the result of captain Bernard Fokke's behaviour: he was known for the "devilish" speed on his trips from Holland to Java. Some said that Fokke was aided by the Devil...

Another version of the legend starts in 1641 when a Dutch ship sank off the coast of the Cape of Good Hope. The trip to the Far East had been successful and the ship was on its way back home to Holland, so captain Van der Decken was pleased... and failed to notice the dark clouds looming. Only when he heard the lookout scream in terror, he did realise they sailed straight into a heavy storm. Van der Decken and his crew battled for hours to get out of the storm, but then they heard a sickening crunch: the ship had hit a rock and began to sink. As the ship plunged downwards and the captain knew death was approaching, he screamed out a curse: "I will round this Cape even if I have to keep sailing until Doomsday!"

Misfortune, greed, and fidelity collide in this storm-battered tale of one man's quest for life-saving love. Wagner retells the legend of the fearsome Flying Dutchman, cursed to sail the seas until he finds a woman who will love him until death, in his famous opera...

Wagner's Famous Opera: The Flying Dutchman

Sightings of the Flying Dutchman

So, whenever a storm brews off the Cape of Good Hope, don't look into the eye of it, because you will see the Flying Dutchman... And whoever sights the ship will die a terrible death.Most people agree the "history" of the Flying Dutchman is merely a legend, and still the ship has been sighted on various occasions in the Cape of Good Hope by reliable witnesses.

Lighthouse keepers reported seeing her and here is a selected list of famous sightings:

In 1823, captain Owen of the HMS Leven recorded two sightings in the log. In 1835 the sailors of a British vessel saw a ship approach them in the middle of a storm. It appeared there would be a collision, but the ship suddenly vanished.

On 11 July 1881, the Royal Navy ship Bacchante was rounding the tip of Africa, when the crew was confronted with the sight of The Flying Dutchman. The midshipman, who later became King George V, recorded that the lookout and the officer of the watch had seen the ship and used these words to describe it: "A strange red light as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the midst of which light the mast, spars and sails of a brig 200 yards distant stood out in strong relief." Soon after the sighting, he accidentally fell from a mast and died.

In 1879, the crew of the SS Pretoria saw the Flying Dutchman and in 1911 a whaling ship almost collided with her before she vanished. In 1923, some members of the British Navy sighted the haunted ship and gave documentation to the Society for Psychical Research. In 1939 the Flying Dutchman was seen by people ashore and German admiral Karl Doenitz maintained his U Boat crews logged various sightings. In 1941 people at Glencairn Beach saw the phantom ship vanish before she crashed into the rocks. In 1942 four witnesses saw the ship enter Table Bay and in 1959 the Magelhaen nearly collided with the phantom ship.

The Flying Dutchman Ghost Ship - a documentary:

Fata Morgana?

Despite the descriptions of ghoulish glows, scientists have offered a more reasonable explanation: the Flying Dutchman could be a 'fata morgana', a mirage that occurs when, in calm weather, warm air rests right above dense, cold air near the surface of the ocean. The air between the two masses acts as a refracting lens, which will produce an upside-down, distorted image of the upright object. Even though a ship may be beyond the horizon, the observing crew may see an inverted, blurry image of the "mirage ship" that could appear several times larger than its actual size, and much closer.


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    • profile image


      15 months ago

      Creepy story. Will tell it to my sister and she wont ever go to the beach

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I thought I read that LDMA costs like $7500 for a liimefte membership? Seems a bit expensive unless you are retired and live out west where the gold is still to be found in some amounts, and you are still healthy enough to be able to get out and dig and campout? I wanted to go look for the Lost Dutchmans gold myself ,but my mother who lives in Phoenix, kept urging me not to do so as there are numerous reports of lost prospectors in the Superstition mountains every year and most end up badly. One of these days,I'd like to give it ago anyway, but need a willing and trustworthy partner to go along on the expedition if anybody is up to the challenge? We may have to contend with descendants of Apache Indians who dislike white men on their old lands, now owned by Uncle Sam as a Wilderness area, not to mention the Thunder God. If you look up the Superstition Mountain Historical Museum on YouTube, they will give you a good story about the Dutchman, the maps, and the gold legends. There is a ghost town called Goldfields just outside the Mountain if you want a taste of the old west, gunfights, a really good steak, etc.. Gold was found just east of this town for sure around 1900. Yes, I have been there.-Tom V.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      lol this is lame

    • profile image

      jason jackson 

      7 years ago

      love this story ,as i am a fishermen from nova scotia and heard it lots of times and be on the sea lots and got to say glad i have never seen her my self.thanks

    • profile image

      clara tran 

      7 years ago

      Awsome story loved it boyfriend james!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      INteresting :O

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      9 years ago from TEXAS

      Thank you for this!! I love the legend and the opera. My ranch in southwest Texas is called The Flying Dutchman. My Dad's forebears were of Dutch extraction and Mother called him the flying Dutchman. It was their hard work which carved it out of the wilderness. I named one high rocky cliff on the ranch, Senta's Leap.

    • steffer profile image

      Stef Verheyen 

      9 years ago from Belgium (Europe)

      great hub, i really enjoyed reading it. kinda scary, i like it.



    • Zollstock profile image


      10 years ago from Germany originally, now loving the Pacific NW

      Thank you so much for that -- history, folklore, a venture into the human mind, whatever we want to label it. Growing up in Germany, I kept hearing references about "Der fliegende Hollaender" (in fact, there was a restaurant in my hometown by that name) - now I know that there is more to it than the Wagner opera! I am curious to see if this yarn will continue to be spun by sailors the world over. Awesome hub.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      very creepy and I enjoyed it utterly!

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 

      10 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Scary tale told with relish, thanks, I'll look out for her!


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