For centuries, the Flying Dutchman has sailed in and out of television, movies, books, and legends.
The details change, but the story itself remains the same. A doomed man is cursed to sail the seven seas for eternity, haunting sailors’ dreams and signaling inevitable disaster for any ship that sees her.
Legend says the Dutchman, captained by Hendrick Van der Decken, was traveling between the Netherlands and the East Indies in 1641 when the captain took the ship around Cape of Good Hope, at the time known as the Cape of Storms when Van der Decken set a challenge that the devil took up.
While taking the ship around the cape, the captain and crew were caught in a vicious storm, and the captain swore he would succeed even if he had to sail until Judgement Day. However, the devil heard his oath and condemned the Dutchman to stay at sea forever.
Some accounts say the captain could be saved if he found a woman who would love him enough to declare herself faithful to the captain no matter what. The devil allowed the captain to come ashore once every seven years to search for his one true love.
In another tale, the captain got into a fight with a rebel group who disagreed with the captain’s decision to sail in the storm, and the captain threw the rebel leader over the rail of the ship. As the man hit the water, the vessel spoke to the captain about his decision, and the captain continued to press on, which led to damnation on the seas for eternity.
There have been several supposed sightings of the Dutchman. One of the most famous was made by King George V, before he was king, and his brother Prince Albert Victor on July 11, 1881, off the Australian coast, according to History Collection.
The party was on a three-year tour around the world, and while anchored in the Bass Strait, the princes swore they spotted the ship at around 4 a.m.
“A strange red light as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the midst of which light the masts, spars, and sails of a brig 200 yards distant stood out in strong relief as she came up on the port bow,” said the log written by King George V. “The officer of the watch from the bridge clearly saw her, as did the quarterdeck midshipman, who was sent forward at once to the forecastle; but on arriving there was no vestige nor any sign whatever of any material ship was to be seen either near or right away to the horizon, the night being clear and the sea calm.”
It was reported in the same log that after spotting the ship, one of the crew members fell from the masts onto the ship’s forecastle dying instantly.
Most reports describe the ship as having an unearthly glow; the most recent reports were made in 1939 and 1941. Accounts say the ship appeared to sail towards land and then disappear before hitting the rocks.
According to Historic Mysteries, scientists believe that when atmospheric conditions are just right, the refraction of light causes a reflection of a ship or other object beyond the horizon. From afar, the mirage can seem like it’s floating above the water or in the sky, sometimes upside down and often with an eerie glow.
The legend of the Dutchman has evolved several times and been told over the centuries in many different ways. The ship has appeared in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” where Davey Jones and crew collected souls and the captain was scorned by the Goddess Calypso, and in SpongeBob SquarePants as the crazy green ghost who appears in and out of the show.
Whatever you believe, it is a perfectly spooky story for a perfectly spooky season, so keep your eyes on the horizon to see if the Dutchman makes an appearance.