Four hundred and fifty years ago, there lived a man named Hendrick Vanderdecken, a captain, a sailor, a man devoted to the sea. Captain Vanderdecken lived in Amsterdam, in Holland, and for as many years as he could remember, he had loved to be at sea. He knew that was where he belonged, heart and soul, and he could not imagine his life anywhere else.
One day Vanderdecken and his crew set off in their ship, the Flying Dutchman. They were heading toward Batavia, a Dutch port in East India, and their course was set. The journey would take many months, or so they thought. They had no idea that this was a journey that would never end.
After some time the ship reached the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of southern Africa, and there, just as they were rounding the cape, a fierce and unrelenting storm met the Flying Dutchman.
The waves rose higher than the deck itself, and the wind blew so mightily, the sails were ripped to shreds. The crew, feeling the booms ripped from their hands, watching the wind pound at the masts, cried to their captain, "We must turn back!"
Many of the sailors were down on their knees, praying that something might save them. "It's a warning that we shouldn't travel in this direction," some of the sailors wailed, and this they believed. Others cursed and swore and talked of mutiny, for their captain had a gleam in his eye now, and they thought he might have gone mad.
"Sail on," Vanderdecken commanded.
"This is a warning to turn around," the sailors cried out, but Vanderdecken believed he could weather any storm. He believed that he, more than any other man, knew how to work the sea, how to steer his ship always forward. And so he shouted, "Keep sailing!" over the gales. "We will never give up!"
When lightning struck the deck, and raging currents ripped the keel from beneath the ship's hull, many of the sailors screamed in terror and pleaded with their captain to save them, but Vanderdecken was, by this time, listening only to his own heart. "We won't give up, we'll sail for eternity," he cried. "We shall sail until doomsday!"
People say the ship vanished from sight just moments after Captain Vanderdecken uttered these words.
No one ever saw the sailors again, and no one ever saw Captain Vanderdecken. That is, no one ever saw them on land. But some say the captain did receive his punishment for his bravado. People say that he will never rest, and it is also said that those who see the Flying Dutchman -- and people do -- soon meet their own doom.
So goes the legend of the Flying Dutchman.
"A ghost ship?" others laugh. "No such thing." But many have seen it. Nearly two hundred years after its disappearance, a British ship was rounding the cape when suddenly the Flying Dutchman approached, shrouded by a terrible storm.
The crew stood on deck and stared in astonishment at the sight of this phantom sailing ship, with its black masts and blood-red sails. "It's true," they cried. "The ghost ship exists!"
Sailors attempted to reverse the course, for they passed so close, it seemed the two ships might collide. But just as the Flying Dutchman reached the bow of the British ship, it vanished, as if lost in the mist.
A few years later, two more British sailors saw the phantom ship as they sailed around the cape. "Look out! Look out!" they cried to their fellow crew members, but when the others rushed to deck to catch a glimpse, the Flying Dutchman vanished, and that night the men teased their fellow sailors about ghost ships and tall tales and wild dreams.
The very next day one of the men who had seen the ghost ship was climbing the rigging when suddenly he lost his grip and fell to his death.
"You see," said his friends, "the ghost ship takes another victim."
Others, too, have seen the ship. One day, late in the 19th century, dozens of bathers sat upon the beach near the cape when suddenly the ship passed by. They stood and watched, noting the look of the ship, chattering about how odd this 17th-century ship looked. And later they offered precise descriptions of the Flying Dutchman, though none had ever seen even a photograph of such a ship.
"But then it vanished just as quickly as it had appeared," the bathers said, and the legend of the Flying Dutchman stayed alive.
Keepers of the lighthouse at the tip of the cape say they too have seen the ship, usually at the height of a storm. Many who have seen the ship have later lost their lives at sea.
"The curse of the Flying Dutchman," people say, and legend or no, sailors say they have heard the cries of the ghost captain and caught a glimpse of something sailing past. Fiction or truth or something in between? No one knows for certain.
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