What is the Flying Dutchman?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2019
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The Flying Dutchman is a legendary ghost ship that is cursed to sail the seas for eternity. It is often said to have a ghostly glow, and like many other supernatural entities throughout folklore, it is said to herald danger or doom for those who see it. Quite a few sightings of the Flying Dutchman have been reported throughout history, and stories about the ghost ship's origins abound.

Many versions of the story set the scene of the ship's loss at the Cape of Good Hope, the southern tip of Africa. The earliest stories about a wandering ghost ship, dating from the Middle Ages, set the action in the North Sea. Most often, the captain is said to be responsible for the ship's fate, either because he gambles with the Devil or because he makes a rash oath as the ship begins to sink during a storm.

The captain is given different names in different versions of the tale, including Van der Decken, Ramhout van Dam, and Falkenburg. Some say that "Flying Dutchman" was the captain's nickname rather than the name of the ship. Others believe that the captain of the Flying Dutchman is based on the historical figure Bernard Fokke, a 17th century Dutch captain known for his uncannily speedy trips from the Netherlands to Java.


The most famous sighting of the Flying Dutchman occurred on 11 July 1881 off the coast of Australia. The event was recorded by a man named Dalton, the tutor of the two Princes of Wales, who were present on the voyage. The younger prince would later become King George V of the United Kingdom.

The HMS Bacchante encountered the Flying Dutchman at 4:00 in the morning, and 13 of the ship's passengers reportedly saw the ghost ship. The phantom ship was said to glow red and to suddenly vanish. At 10:45 the same morning, the lookout who first reported the phantom vessel fell to his death. The tragedy was attributed to the ghost ship sighting.

The legend of the Flying Dutchman has inspired numerous works of fiction, including a short story by Washington Irving and an opera by Richard Wagner. It also features prominently in the 2006 film Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.


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Post 1

Is it common to call frequent travelers "flying Dutchman"?

I have heard that expression, but I am not sure whether it is rare or a common expression.

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