Storm-stricken sailors haunted by fear of the Flying Dutchman
As if storms at sea were not sufficiently dangerous 200 years ago, bad weather off the Cape of Good Hope held an additional terror: the Flying Dutchman. Blackwood’s Magazine gave the first detailed description of an encounter with this dangerous phantom in 1821.
The legend was that Vanderdecken, the captain of the Flying Dutchman, swore to reach Table Bay despite the storm winds, tacking and tacking again, if he had to sail until judgment day. The devil promptly cursed the ship to do just that. It was often reported in bad weather off the Cape, an obviously supernatural vessel in full sail when the wind was so strong other ships did not dare raise canvas.
The Blackwood’s account records how the Flying Dutchman approached another vessel and lowered a boat whose crew begged the newcomers to carry letters home for them. Fortunately the receiving captain knew he must not take these messages, or even touch them, or the storm would claim his ship.
The anonymous piece may have been meant merely as an entertaining ghost story, but in the early 19th century the ghost ship was accepted as fact among seafarers. Some might joke about seeing things after too much Dutch gin, but many feared encountering the Flying Dutchman in storms off the Cape.