The world is obsessed with otherworldly things. Vampires and zombies have been with us a long time. In fact, one of your neighbors might be one and you don’t even know it. I have my own suspicions about one on my street.
The world of mariners is no different.
Ghost ships, sometimes called phantom ships, are a very real phenomenon, and you don‘t even have to believe in things that go bump in the night to realize this is true. They aren’t exactly the same thing as haunted ships though more than one sober and sensible salt would give me a hell of an argument about that.
In the nautical world, ghost ships are defined as vessels out on the sea that have no crew or passengers. Drifting with winds, currents, and tides, they harbor not one living soul. Because no one is left to tell what happened, the circumstances surrounding everyone’s disappearance are always fraught with mystery and fright. While the sober-minded amongst us rationalize the events, it’s possible we have entered that nether region known as the twilight zone. Since these occurrences defy explanation, even a master story teller like Rod Serling would be baffled.
Since the history of ghost ships goes back centuries, I could write a book about all of them, but I’m going to share with you just three.
The first story has been embedded in the subconscious of mariners for centuries. The Flying Dutchman is no stranger to anyone familiar with sea lore.
According to one account, the ship was captained by a Dutchman, Bernard Fokke. Because of the speed with which he traveled from Netherlands to Java, many believed he had sold his soul to the devil. His crew, because of their nefarious ways, were condemned to the same fate as their captain. To sail the seas for eternity.
Yet another account names the captain as Van der Decken who made several attempts to round the Cape of Good Hope off South Africa. He obstinately refused to put into port and swore to the devil himself that he would sail all of eternity if necessary in the ferocious storms.
The story of the Flying Dutchman was given further credence when Prince George of Wales, later to become King George V, swears he and thirteen others saw the Dutchman glowing off their bow. The next day the sailor who first spotted the phantom ship fell to his death from the ship’s main mast.
The poet Sir Walter Scott perceived the crew as pirates who committed unspeakable acts. Their punishment is to sail endlessly without ever touching land again. To see the Flying Dutchman is to portend disaster.