The Flying Dutchman, by Cesar Leo Marcus

The Flying Dutchman was a ship, named after its captain Bernard Fokke, who was born in The Hague, Holland.

A great sailor and inventor, he was capable of traveling at enormous speed, with technology created by him. Consequently, gossip maintained that he had a pact with the Devil.

The ship The Flying Dutchman disappeared in 1680, when it was surprised by a great storm in the Cape of Good Hope. It was said that for allying with the devil, God punished him for all eternity, with these words: “You will never reach a port nor know rest”.

Bernard Fokke’s response was… “I defy the power of God to stop the course of my destiny and my successful career. Nothing and no one will arouse my fear. Even if I have to sail the seas until the Day of Judgment”. Thereupon he strapped himself to the helm, singing sacrilegious songs… 

Bad omens

From there, The Flying Dutchman became synonymous with bad omens, disaster and death at sea. Even today, sailors and fishermen maintain that seeing the ghost ship on the high seas attracts misfortune, and causes ships to run aground or become stranded.

The Flying Dutchman announces its arrival by turning the wine sour and making water putrid, leading the crew to starvation.

Nothing can erase the idea from the minds of the sailors. Trom the Dutch it passed to the English, European, Hindu and Oriental sailors, many of whom actually believe that they personally saw this apparition.

The first recorded sighting is from July 11, 1881. At 4 am, off the coasts of Australia, “being the night clear and the sea calm, thirteen people saw how a ship appeared on the horizon and then disappeared suddenly, without any explanation”.

From myth to literature music and cinema

This story, spread by word of mouth for more than a century, inspired the legend that is still circulating, which is supposed to be based on a true story, although distorted by imagination and time.

The first printed reference to The Flying Dutchman appears in John MacDonald’s “Travels”, published in 1790.

George Barrington, in the first volume of “A Voyage To Botany Bay” published in 1795 made this reference to the story.

“I had often heard of the superstition of sailors respecting apparitions, 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”.

In 1804, Thomas Moore places the ship in the North Atlantic, writing as he passed Deadman Island, in Northern England:

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!

Oh! 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!

In 1812, Sir Walter Scott in his work Rokeby explains that, “the appearance of the ship is considered by sailors as the worst possible omen.”

In 1821, a British magazine giving rise to, compiles a summary of the history, from the oral tradition.

In 1832 the writer August Jal, of Scandinavian origin, published the novel “The Flying Dutchman”, based on previous works.

The novelist and sailor Frederick Marryat, of English origin and prominent in marine writings, published in 1847, the novel The Phantom Ship, based on the story by Jal, but changed the Captain’s name to Vander Decken.

In 1848, Richard Wagner would immortalize the story in the opera Der Fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman or The Ghost Ship).

In 1998 the film The Flying Dutchman was released.

Even characters for children, such as Spongebob, take the idea of ​​the Flying Dutchman for some of its chapters. 


  • Cesar Leo Marcus was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Doctor (PhD) in International Logistics and Foreign Trade, and Master (MBA) in Economic Sociology, he was professor of both chairs at the Universities of Madrid (Spain) and Cordoba (Argentina). A journalist, he publishes in newspapers in California, Miami, and New York. He is a writer, he published twelve books, and a literary editor, director of Windmills Editions. He currently resides in California.

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