The ghost ship – an image of a misty ship with tattered sails, gliding silently towards you – possibly empty or full of ghostly, ghoulish
sailors manning the decks, is a scary vision. Sometimes the ship will glow with an eerie, unnatural light, it’s bell clanging forlornly in the distance…
The term ghost ship has been around for hundreds of years, with the best known spectral vessel definitely being The Flying Dutchman. She was an Amsterdam craft and set sail in 1751. The captain’s name was Captain Hendrik van der Decken and the story goes that the ship disappeared while he was trying to seek shelter in Table Bay in the Cape of Good Hope. It is said that if one sees this ghost ship on the high seas, doom and tragedy are sure to follow. She also brings dangerous and foul weather with her appearance. The Flying Dutchman has been spotted many times in the last two centuries, with the late King George V of England writing a detailed account of his own sighting in 1880 off the coast of Australia:
"At 4 a.m. the Flying Dutchman crossed our bows. 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, where also 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. Thirteen persons altogether saw her...At 10.45 a.m. the ordinary seaman who had this morning reported the Flying Dutchman fell from the foretopmast crosstrees on to the topgallant forecastle and was smashed to atoms."
In more recent times, sightings have included ships that were known to have sunk many years before or empty vessels simply found with no crew on board. Here are a few of the more notorious and documented ghost ship sightings:
- 1775: The Octavius, an English trading ship returning from China, was found drifting off the coast of Greenland in 1775. The captain's log showed that the ship had attempted the Northwest Passage, which had never been successfully crossed . The ship and the bodies of her frozen crew seemingly completed the passage after drifting among the ice pack for 13 years.
- 1872: The famous brigantine Mary Celeste was found abandoned between Portugal and the Azores islands. It was totally empty of it’s 10 crew and passengers, but completely intact. The last log entry was 11 days prior to the discovery of the ship. No one was ever found.
- 1933: A lifeboat from the 1906 wreck of the passenger steamship SS Valencia was found drifting off the coast of Vancouver Island in amazingly good condition 27 years after she sank. The ship has been seen in the area quite a few times, often as an ghostly vessel that floats down the coast.
- 1948: Frantic Morse code messages were received from the Dutch freighter Ourang Medan with many ships in the area responding. By the time the ship was found floating adrift off Indonesia, it’s crew was dead. All of them were found "frozen, teeth baring, gaping at the sun." Before the ship could be moved to safety, it exploded and sank. The reason for the deaths of the crew are still an unsolved mystery today.
- 2007: This is a story that really intrigued me. The 12-metre catamaran, the Kaz II, was discovered with no crew off the coast of northeast Australia in April. The yacht which had left on Sunday 15 April, was spotted about 80 nautical miles close to the outer Great Barrier Reef on the following Wednesday. When it was boarded on Friday, the engine and a laptop was running, the radio and GPS were working and dinner was ready to eat, but the three man crew were nowhere to be seen. All the sails were up, but one was badly damaged. Survival equipment including three life jackets and an emergency beacon, were found on board. A search for the crew was abandoned on Sunday 22nd as it was decided they all would have perished after that length of time. What happened to them? So far, there are no answers.
Ghosts know no boundaries – land, water, air – where people once lived and worked will always be places to find weird and mysterious paranormal phenomena. The Ghost Ship will always be a favourite of mine.
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