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The Flying Dutchman Sails Again

It’s Part 2 of our Flying Dutchman special feature. A Lovecraftian film of Chilean folk-horror and a James Mason classic, art, what connects Washington Irving, Roger Zelazny and Uncle Scrooge McDuck, and how to confuse Cub Scouts. Plus lots of great clips. We’re sailing through Stranger Seas 8.1, lost as usual.


A little general muttering first. Spring is sprung, and the little donkeys are now lying all over the patio getting their rays. We didn’t have a camera with us today, but part of the usual sprawl is shown below. If they stay still long enough, we might even get the next bit of Training Your Human finished for next week.


New guests are joining us for articles in April – we should have authors Alan M Clark and Joanne Hall onboard, covering horror and fantasy respectively, and we have a promise of a feature with stunning artist Santiago Caruso, who we’ve mentioned here many times.

As this is supposedly the blog of John Linwood Grant, the My Writing page on the top bar has been seriously updated to point out how you can find his fiction in print/ebook. Or how you can avoid it. Hound enthusiasts will be catered for eventually, as we think about gathering together Lurchers for Beginners in some more coherent form. Beer mats, maybe.

Time to get wet…

I’ll be a Flying Dutchman Pt 2

We’re on the trail of the Flying Dutchman once more, picking up where we left off. Washington Irving should be well-known to many as the author of Rip van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Curiously for us, Irving’s father was from Shapinsay in the Orkney Islands off the Scottish coast. Trivia fiends will remember that the water around these islands are home to the dark and malevolent finfolk (whale-road, widow-maker).

tim burton, 1999
sleepy hollow, tim burton (1999)

In 1855 Irving collected together his short stories and essays written for The Knickerbocker and other outlets in the form of Wolfert’s Roost, produced under the name Geoffrey Crayon. This is his mention of the tale:

Another local superstition is of a less gloomy kind, and one which I confess I am somewhat disposed to cherish. The Tappan Sea, in front of the Roost, is about three miles wide, bordered by a lofty line of waving and rocky hills. Often, in the still twilight of a summer evening, when the sea is like glass, with the opposite hills throwing their purple shadows half across it, a low sound is heard, as of the steady, vigorous pull of oars, far out in the middle of the stream, though not a boat is to be descried. This I should have been apt to ascribe to some boat rowed along under the shadows of the western shore, for sounds are conveyed to a great distance by water, at such quiet hours, and I can distinctly hear the baying of the watch-dogs at night, from the farms on the sides of the opposite mountains.

The ancient traditionists of the neighborhood, however, religiously ascribed these sounds to a judgment upon one Rumbout Van Dam, of Spiting Devil, who danced and drank late one Saturday night, at a Dutch quilting frolic, at Kakiat, and set off alone for home in his boat, on the verge of Sunday morning; swearing he would not land till he reached Spiting Devil, if it took him a month of Sundays. He was never seen afterward, but is often heard plying his oars across the Tappan Sea, a Flying Dutchman on a small scale, suited to the size of his cruising-ground; being doomed to ply between Kakiat and Spiting Devil till the day of judgment, but never to reach the land.

Back in Britland, the legend of the Dutchman was given a further boost in 1881, when George, Prince of Wales (later to become George V) recorded an encounter. He was serving aboard HMS Bacchante at the time.

hms bacchante, william frederick mitchell
hms bacchante, william frederick mitchell

This demonstrates the egalitarian nature of the phantom ship, which was willing to appear before both commoners and royalty. Sailing off Australia, he wrote the following (for purists, there is a possibility that the entry was by George’s elder brother Prince Albert Victor, as he was also on the voyage):

July 11th. 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.

The Tourmaline and Cleopatra, who were sailing on our starboard bow, flashed to ask whether we had seen the strange red light. At 6.15 A.M. observed land (Mount Diana) to the north-east. 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. At 4.15 P.M, after quarters we hove to with the headyards aback, and he was buried in the sea. He was a smart royal yardman, and one of the most promising young hands in the ship, and every one feels quite sad at his loss. (At the next port we came to, the Admiral also was smitten down).

Let’s have some art, before we get smitten too.

Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847 – 1917) was an American painter who had a rather odd approach to painting, applying layer after layer over years, often at the wrong time. Whilst very collectable, his paintings kept falling apart, so his Flying Dutchman is somewhat cracked, literally.


Howard Pyle (1853 – 1911), a somewhat more sorted artist, was one of America’s most popular illustrators and storytellers of the period.  His illustrations appeared in magazines like Harper’s Monthly and Collier’s Weekly. Pyle’s pictures of knights, pirates, and historical figures were influential on many other artists (painting 1900).


Far more important to many of us was Carl Barks (1901 – 2000), the famous Donald Duck artist, creator of Duckburg and our favourite character, Scrooge McDuck. In fact, if you like Raiders of the Lost Ark, you should know that the great boulder which rolls after Indiana Jones at the start was based on the Carl Barks 1954 Uncle Scrooge adventure The Seven Cities of Cibola.


In 1959 Barks wrote and drew the magnificent Flying Dutchman adventure of Uncle Scrooge, Donald and his nephews – a masterpiece in supernatural literature (if you like ducks).


We’re in the 1950s, which means it’s time to move on to actor James Mason, of such fame that we hardly need to say more. The Dutchman story was dramatised in his 1951 film Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, with Mason as the Dutch Captain Hendrick van der Zee and Ava Gardner as Pandora. We get the love interest version this time.

Rather than challenging God or the storm, Van der Zee killed his wife, thinking (mistakenly) that she had been unfaithful to him. As a result he was condemned to sail the oceans for centuries, seeking true love. Once every seven years the Dutchman is allowed ashore for six months to search for a woman who will love him enough to die for him, releasing him from his curse. We’re sure that there’s something wrong with this whole scenario, but we could listen to James Mason’s voice all day, so what the heck.

After this, you pick and choose. There are plenty of Dutchman references and links in the media post-sixties, so we’re only going to cover a few favourites.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, that spiffing TV show, had its own tribute to the legend in the 1967 episode Cave of the Dead. In summary, when four capital ships vanish, Admiral Nelson and Commander Van Wyck are sent to investigate. They find an island where Nelson removes a dagger from a skeleton which happens to be the captain of the Amsterdammer, the Flying Dutchman, and is then cursed. Van Wyck is in reality the first mate who killed the Captain. His plan is to kill Nelson with the dagger so that he can be free and Nelson will take his place. You can watch this episode here:

Then there’s Roger Zelazny, the writer who we can’t help mentioning. In his collection Unicorn Variations (1983), his wry story And Only I Am Escaped To Tell Thee recounts the tale of a sailor who escapes from the Flying Dutchman and is rescued by sailors who welcome him to a much safer vessel.

The seaman clapped him on the shoulder. “Rest easy now, my friend. You are safe at last,” he said, “Free of the demon ship. You are aboard a vessel with a fine safety record and excellent officers and crew – and just a few days away from her port. Recover your strength and rid your mind of past afflictions. We welcome you aboard the Marie Celeste.”

It would seem unreasonable, given that this is Stranger Seas, not to  mention the weird Spongebob Squarepants. In this animated series, The Flying Dutchman is both the name of a Dutch ghost (an actual flying Dutchman) and his haunted pirate ship (the Flying Dutchman). You can even get a Lego set, which was released in 2012.

lego-the-flying-dutchman-set-3817-15It was while writing (that’s what we call it, anyway) this article that we came across a final connection which really interested us – the Caleuche. This is too cool to miss out, given that it does involve a phantom ship and a very weird setting. According to Chilean legend, the Caleuche is a large ghost ship sailing the seas around Chiloé (a small island off the coast of Chile) at night. We’re nearer Cape Horn than the Cape of Good Hope with this one.

The Caleuche is said to be a being who is conscious and sentient. The ship appears as a beautiful and bright white sailing ship, with 3 masts of 5 sails each, always full of lights and with the sounds of a party on board, but quickly disappears again, leaving no evidence of its presence. The ghost ship is also known to be able to navigate under water, just like another well known ghost ship, the Flying Dutchman. (Magdalena Petit)

el millalobo, dorian c

The crew of the Caleuche are drowned men, whose bodies are taken from the sea and are brought to the ship. Some versions say that they are horribly transformed in the process. Their guides are three mythological figures who are siblings and merfolk – the sirena chilote, the pincoya and their brother the pincoy. These are the children of the Millalobo, the Sea-King. (Chilote legends deserve an article in their own right, but that’s for another time).

In 2012 Jorge Olguin directed the film Caleuche: El Llamado del Mar (The Call of the Sea). Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an English language/subtitle version available, but as far as we can tell, the story concerns a marine researcher with Chilean roots who develops a disfiguring and unknown disease. She leaves the US to try and find a cure or explanation on the island of Chiloe, where her ancestors came from. There she discovers the legend of the Caleuche, and its effect on the lives of everyone there…

The film seems to be a blend of folk mythology and Lovecraftian dread, and looks rather interesting. Here’s the trailer:

As we can’t doggy-paddle much longer, we’ll bring things to a close. Normally we like to add a bit of music or audio, but space is limited. Jethro Tull and Tori Amos have both done Flying Dutchman songs, which aren’t bad, but the greatest one is Hugo Winterhalter & His OrchestraThe Flying Dutchman Ahoy Ahoy. If you can find that, you’re laughing (or sobbing, depending on your musical tastes). If you’re keen on some nautical horror to listen to, then we recommend William Hope Hodgson’s The Ghost Pirates, which is better than any Dutchman story we’ve encountered so far:

We leave you with a game that makes no sense to us, the Cub Scout game Flying Dutchman. No wonder our children are confused.

Instructions: Stand in circle facing inward holding hands. Two scouts hold hands outside the circle and are the Flying Dutchman. They circle the world, looking for a harbor in which to rest.

As they walk around the circle, the Flying Dutchman slaps the handhold of two scouts. Those two scouts must leave the circle as a pair and run around the circle in the opposite direction as the Flying Dutchman.

Whichever pair reaches the opening again first, reaches safe harbor. The other pair is now the Flying Dutchman.


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Well, I’ll be a Flying Dutchman!

We’ve all been there. You decide to sail round a few continents in the worst storms imaginable, make a pact with the Devil and then, dash it, you’re doomed to wander the Seven Seas for eternity. So here’s everything you didn’t want to know about the most haunted ship ever. The origins of the story, Gothic fiction and the death of Napoleon in Part One today. In Part Two later this weekend, Chilean mythology through to Roger Zelazny, calling in at James Mason, Uncle Scrooge McDuck and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea along the way.

Put out the galley fire and swallow that grog, it’s Stranger Seas Eight

matchack, deviantart
matchack, deviantart

(This first part’s the semi-literary and historical bit, by the way. We’ve even quoted sections of the relevant works, in order to prove we don’t make everything up.)

Der Fliegende Hollander, De Vliegende Hollander. Over three centuries, the legend of the Flying Dutchman has mutated many times. Usually the Dutchman is the ship itself; sometimes the Dutchman is its captain, cursed to be the equivalent of the Wandering Jew.

It all began in the 17th century – we think. The legend was certainly established by the middle of the 18th century, but we’ll never know the exact details. There are two named candidates for the origin of the story, a Dutch explorer called Van der Decken and a man called Barend or Bernard Fokke. Both were sea-captains who were supposed to have worked for the Dutch East India Company, and made extensive voyages around 1650 – 1680.

Not a lot is known of Captain Van Der Decken, aka Cornelius Vanderdecken. The tale is that his ship got caught up in a storm around the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa), and he swore that he would finish the voyage even if it took him until Judgement Day. It was said that because of the vow that he was forced to sail the seas forever by the Devil.

Captain Barend Fokke was certainly genuine. A Frisian born sailor, he was renowned for fast voyages between Java and Holland (then the Dutch Republic). In 1678 he is supposed to have covered the distance in just over 3 months. This was pretty impressive, and gave rise to talk that he was in league with dark powers, possibly the Devil himself.

By the late 18th century, the legend was pretty well established. A doomed captain/ship and crew would appear to other ships, either dark and ruined or haloed with a ghostly light, and often during a storm. Sometimes the sight presaged evil to come, sometimes it was just one of those things put there to remind you that you needed to go to confession again fairly soon.

from a german print
from a german print

We’ll get slightly literary. A pickpocket called George Barrington was sentenced to transportation to Australia in 1790, travelling there between March and September 1791. Barrington supposedly wrote about that journey in A Voyage to Botany Bay (1795). We say supposedly because it seems likely that whatever he produced was altered or re-written for publication. In the published book, the passage goes:

I had often heard of the superstition of sailors respecting apparitions and doom, but had never given much credit to the report; it seems that some years since a Dutch man-of-war was lost off the Cape of Good Hope, and every soul on board perished; her consort weathered the gale, and arrived soon after at the Cape. Having refitted, and returning to Europe, they were assailed by a violent tempest nearly in the same latitude. In the night watch some of the people saw, or imagined they saw, a vessel standing for them under a press of sail, as though she would run them down: one in particular affirmed it was the ship that had foundered in the former gale, and that it must certainly be her, or the apparition of her; but on its clearing up, the object, a dark thick cloud, disappeared.

Nothing could do away the idea of this phenomenon on the minds of the sailors; and, on their relating the circumstances when they arrived in port, the story spread like wild-fire, and the supposed phantom was called the Flying Dutchman. From the Dutch the English seamen got the infatuation, and there are very few Indiamen, but what has some one on board, who pretends to have seen the apparition.


Not long after, at the start of the next century, Thomas ‘Anacreon’ Moore wrote a poem about the ghost ship legend which is worth quoting in its entirety – a) it’s creepy, and b) we don’t do much versifying here.


See you, beneath yon cloud so dark,
Fast gliding along a gloomy bark?
Her sails are full,–though the wind is still,
And there blows not a breath her sails to fill!

Say, what doth that vessel of darkness bear?
The silent calm of the grave is there,
Save now and again a death-knell rung,
And the flap of the sails with night-fog hung.

There lieth a wreck on the dismal shore
Of cold and pitiless Labrador;
Where, under the moon, upon mounts of frost,
Full many a mariner’s bones are tost.

Yon shadowy bark hath been to that wreck,
And the dim blue fire, that lights her deck,
Doth play on as pale and livid a crew,
As ever yet drank the churchyard dew.

To Deadman’s Isle, in the eye of the blast,
To Deadman’s Isle, she speeds her fast;
By skeleton shapes her sails are furled,
And the hand that steers is not of this world!

Oh! hurry thee on-oh! hurry thee on,
Thou terrible bark, ere the night be gone,
Nor let morning look on so foul a sight
As would blanch for ever her rosy light!

Our chum Anacreon notes: “This is one of the Magdalen Islands, and, singularly enough, is the property of Sir Isaac Coffin. The above lines were suggested by a superstition very common among sailors, who called this ghost-ship, I think, The Flying Dutchman.”

by stefancelic
by stefancelic

Blackwood’s Edinburgh magazine published a Flying Dutchman tale in 1821 called Vanderdecken’s Message Home, which included the belief that crew of the Dutchmen would seek to send letters to loved ones, even though the recipients would be long dead.

Soon a vivid flash of lightning shewed the waves tumbling around us, and in the distance, the Flying Dutchman scudding furiously before the wind, under a press of canvas…. One of the men cried aloud, “There she goes, top-gallants and all.”

The point being that they were in the middle of a storm, and no normal ship would be able to bear top-gallant sails under such conditions without disaster.

Big ocean wave breaking the shore

In 1833 (we’re being semi-chronological, don’t mock) Edgar Allen Poe wrote MS. Found in a Bottle. Although this is possibly a satire of sea tales, it includes an excellent encounter with what may well be the Dutchman:

Casting my eyes upwards, I beheld a spectacle which froze the current of my blood. At a terrific height directly above us, and upon the very verge of the precipitous descent, hovered a gigantic ship of nearly four thousand tons. Although upreared upon the summit of a wave of more than a hundred times her own altitude, her apparent size still exceeded that of any ship of the line or East Indiaman in existence.

Her huge hull was of a deep dingy black, unrelieved by any of the customary carvings of a ship. A single row of brass cannon protruded from her open ports, and dashed off from their polished surfaces the fires of innumerable battle-lanterns, which swung to and fro about her rigging. But what mainly inspired us with horror and astonishment, was that she bore up under a press of sail in the very teeth of that supernatural sea, and of that ungovernable hurricane.

Poe later adds:

The ship and all in it are imbued with the spirit of Eld. The crew glide to and fro like the ghosts of buried centuries, their eyes have an eager and uneasy meaning, and when their figures fall athwart my path in the wild glare of the battle-lanterns, I feel as I have never felt before…

by isildur123
by isildur123

Our next reference is to The Phantom Ship (1839), written by Frederick Marryat, the author of Mr Midshipman Easy and other books. Marryat served with distinction during the Napoleonic Wars as midshipman and eventually captain in the Royal Navy. The Phantom Ship is not without flaws – in fact it’s a tad boring in parts – but some people will know the chapter The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains, which has been anthologised a lot.


The book is basically about the Flying Dutchman legend. Philip Vanderdecken (remember that surname?) seeks to save his father, who has been doomed to sail for eternity as the Captain of the Bewitched Phantom Ship, after he made a rash oath to heaven and slew one of the crew whilst attempting to sail round the Cape of Good Hope. Vanderdecken discovers that there is a way by which his father may be laid to rest, and vows to live at sea until he has achieved this. This is dear papa’s revelation to his wife early on:

“‘Alas! no—be not alarmed, but listen? for my time is short. I have not lost my vessel, Catherine, but I have lost!—Make no reply, but listen; I am not dead, nor yet am I alive. I hover between this world and the world of spirits. Mark me.’

‘For nine weeks did I try to force my passage against the elements round the stormy Cape, but without success; and I swore terribly. For nine weeks more did I carry sail against the adverse winds and currents, and yet could gain no ground and then I blasphemed,—ay, terribly blasphemed. Yet still I persevered. The crew, worn out with long fatigue, would have had me return to the Table Bay; but I refused; nay, more, I became a murderer—unintentionally, it is true, but still a murderer. The pilot opposed me, and persuaded the men to bind me, and in the excess of my fury, when he took me by the collar, I struck at him; he reeled; and, with the sudden lurch of the vessel, he fell overboard, and sank. Even this fearful death did not restrain me; and I swore by the fragment of the Holy Cross, preserved in that relic now hanging round your neck, that I would gain my point in defiance of storm and seas, of lightning, of heaven, or of hell, even if I should beat about until the Day of Judgment.’

‘My oath was registered in thunder, and in streams of sulphurous fire. The hurricane burst upon the ship, the canvass flew away in ribbons; mountains of seas swept over us, and in the centre of a deep o’erhanging cloud, which shrouded all in utter darkness, were written in letters of livid flame, these words—Until the Day of Judgement.’

Marryat also had the odd distinction of sketching the corpse of Napoleon Bonaparte on St Helena, when he was charged with bringing back to England the despatches announcing Napoleon’s death. He wasn’t a great artist, but here it is, a sliver of history:


Finally for this part, we’ll mention but dash fairly rapidly past Richard Wagner’s opera Der Fliegende Hollander from 1843, because we find it somewhat dull at times. There are clear echoes of the Wandering Jew again, as the plot line was adapted from a story by Heinrich Heine in which the Dutchman is referred to as ‘the Wandering Jew of the ocean’.

Lots of people do like Wagner, of course, and so you can listen to the overture here:

Do join us for Part Two in a day or so, when we follow the tangled threads of the Dutchman into the twentieth century…


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