The Real Flying Dutchman Ship


When Castaway Cay was first built, cruise passengers saw the original Flying Dutchman pirate ship used in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie when the ship pulled into the dock. Unfortunately, this old ship was destroyed and is no longer at Castaway Cay.

According to the tale of the Flying Dutchman, a maniacal Dutch sea captain once struggled to round the Cape of Good Hope in the teeth of a terrible gale that threatened to sink his ship and all aboard.

The Flying Dutchman in the morning.Despite the pleadings from sailors and passengers, the captain refused to change course, swearing blasphemous oaths. When he finally killed the leader of an ensuing mutiny and threw him overboard, a shadowy figure appeared on the quarterdeck and condemned him to sail the oceans for eternity with a ghostly crew of dead men, “bringing death to all who sight your spectral ship, and to never make port or know a moment’s peace.”
Flying Dutchman_1For centuries the Flying Dutchman was spotted, canvas spread and masts creaking in a fearful wind. Sometimes he lead other ships astray, onto shallow beaches and hidden reefs. The story of the Flying Dutchman has been elaborated by many writers, and apparently it is more than a piece of fiction – it even inspired German composer Richard Wagner to write his opera “Der Fliegende Hollander”.

Flying Dutchman_2

The phantom ship has also been seen in the 20th century, by the crew of a German submarine during World War II amongst others. One of the first recorded sightings, however, occurred on 11 July 1881 when the Royal Navy ship H.M.S. Bacchante was rounding the tip of Africa and sighted the Flying Dutchman.

The midshipman, a prince who later became King George V of England, recorded in his log that the lookout man and the officer of the watch had seen the Flying Dutchman : “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.”

Flying Dutchman_3As recently as March 1939, the ghost ship was seen here in False Bay by dozens of bathers in neighbouring Glencairn who supplied detailed descriptions of the ship, although most had probably never seen a 17th century merchant vessel. The British South Africa Annual of 1939 included the story, derived from newspaper reports : “With uncanny volition, the ship sailed steadily on as the Glencairn beach folk stood about, keenly discussing the whys and wherefores of the vessel. Just as the excitement reached its climax, however, the mystery ship vanished into thin air as strangely as it had come.”

Flying Dutchman_4Is it true that a phantom ship appears to unsuspecting people here? Having lived in Simon’s Town for nine years with a view of False Bay reaching from Cape Point to Muizenberg, I have never seen the Flying Dutchman myself. It is, therefore, not part of my reality – but it could nevertheless be true. The above eyewitness reports are credible enough to suggest that a ghost ship is not mere hocus-pocus.

Flying Dutchman_5When we look for ‘the truth, and nothing but the truth’ in criminal proceedings, it is easy enough to determine ‘the truth’ – even if the suspected thief is lying, witnesses will testify that he walked into a jewelry store at a certain date and time and stole a golden watch. Sadly, this is a common and believable occurrence these days.Flying Dutchman_6

Anything we believe is true for us. Most people today believe that calories affect body weight, viruses cause illness, inflation is inevitable, jails curb crime and weapons create safety. Our conception of the world shapes our daily behaviour, our beliefs determine our ‘reality’ and the world we experience is the result of the general agreement that things really are the way we think they are.Flying Dutchman_7But are they? Only a few hundred years ago, the earth was believed to be flat and if one sailed too far, beyond ‘the four corners’ of our world, one would fall off the edge into a great abyss. This became ‘the truth’ of the Dark Ages because enough persons of authority accepted that belief at the time and used it to extend their positions of power as long as they could.Flying Dutchman_8Beliefs change, however, and the beliefs we hold today are not ‘truer’ than what people believed some time ago. Beliefs are illusions, actually – an illusion is something that you think is true, but is not. Another implication of this is that there is no such thing as ‘the truth’ – we are free to believe anything we want, and no two belief-systems are absolutely identical, so the only truths that exist are ‘my truth’, ‘your truth’, ‘his truth’ and about six billion others.