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The Legend of 'The Flying Dutchman'

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Apart from inspiring Richard Wagner to write an opera on the subject, The Flying Dutchman is a name that has come to be feared by mariners across the globe. It represents bad luck and is often considered to be a portent of doom. This is the reason why...

Vanderdecken's Mistake

In the year 1729, a Dutch ship called the Flying Dutchman1, captained by the infamous Vanderdecken, set sail towards the Cape of Good Hope, Africa's southernmost tip which has long been associated with difficult sailing conditions and shipwrecks. Vanderdecken was a violent and disturbed captain who feared nothing and refused to back away from any situation. As the ship approached the Cape a violent storm broke out. The fierce winds, gigantic waves and terrible lightning threatened to sink the Flying Dutchman, but the twisted and fearless captain had a threat of his own. There and then, Vanderdecken swore an oath to the Devil that he would round the Cape even if it took him until Doomsday (the day that the world will come to an end). This foolish act brought a terrible curse down upon the captain, his crew and his ship. From that moment forth they were forced to roam the mighty seas for all eternity as a ghost ship.

Omen of Disaster

From that fateful day to the present, many sailors claim to have seen the Flying Dutchman haunting the seas. It is believed that anyone who sees the ship will have misfortune fall upon them. So powerful is this belief that King George V of England himself, as a young prince during his naval days, purported to have encountered it, although a prince is not someone who immediately springs to mind when considering unfortunate people.

One method used by mariners to ward off the curse of the Flying Dutchman was to nail horseshoes to the masts of their ships, as this was supposed to bring good luck.

The Flying Dutchman - an Explanation

Many people would be sceptical of the existence of a 'ghost ship' and quite rightly so. No conclusive evidence for any type of ghost has ever been gathered and most scientists refuse to believe that they exist at all. To this end they have come up with an explanation for the supposed sightings and even those people who do believe in ghosts would have to admit that it is quite a good one.

The theory goes that the ghost ship is nothing more than an optical illusion. Apparently modern day mariners are used to the sight of hazy-looking ships appearing over the horizon; they are simply mirages caused by the refraction of light rays. Although the existence of the Flying Dutchman and Captain Vanderdecken is known, it is likely that the stories of a phantom ship were started by superstitious sailors who saw exactly this kind of mirage.

Nevertheless, no definitive proof exists either way so it would be advisable for anyone going on a cruise to steer clear of glowing ships with billowing sails, hovering several feet above the water.

1In Dutch the ship's name translates as Die Vlieënde Hollander. In German it translates as Der Fliegende Holländer; this was also the title of Wagner's opera.

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