De Vliegende Hollander

The Flying Dutchman


Chapter 1

The storm surged towards the land. Foaming, the sea tumbled against the docks and slammed the port side of a ship moored there. A heavily loaded freighter with destination East-India.

So terrifying was the weather, that none of the crew ventured on deck. Only the captain, a large, barrel of a man, with nerves of steel and a rough disposition, stood at the prow.

With fiery eyes he watched the waves whipped up by the storm, preventing him from signalling their departure.

A host of setbacks has already delayed the departure by several days and now this miserable storm was thwarting his plans of heading to sea as soon as possible with his valuable cargo.

With clenched fists he stood at the prow and cursed. Who or what dared to thwart him, the most fearless and bravest skipper of the world?

Had he not weathered the roughest of storms, meandered treacherous cliffs and sandbanks? Had he not sailed the fastest, of all other ships of the Company, to the East?

Had he not proven hundreds of time that no sea was too high and no storm too wild? He loved the dangers which are part of the life of a sailor and he was capable.

His men felt completely safe under his guidance and executed his commands swiftly. With no complaints or questions.

They knew they could rely on his decisions and didn't mind that he acted like a bully to reach his goals.

After all the captain was the boss on board and he had guided them through the most hazardous adventures back home safely.

Yes, the crew of the East-India seafarer had respect for the skipper and would go through fire and water for him. Even if he was stubborn and quick-tempered.

But now he was really going too far.

While the storm howled and the foaming waves smashed against the bow, he muttered as he appeared below deck and announced loudly: "Weather or no weather, tomorrow at six we sail!"

The faces of the sailors silenced. None of the men playing cards dared say what he thought. But when the boatswain cleared his throat, everyone nodded relieved.

"Objections, boats?" the skipper asked threateningly. "Tomorrow is first easter, captain," the boatswain answered.

The sailors joined in thankfully. "That's right, captain!" they cried. And: "What boats says is true!"

For it was a sacred law, that no ship should set sail on the first day of easter!

The captain clenched his fist and slammed them on the sailor's card table. "I don't care!" He bellowed.

"First easter or not, storm or no storm, I sail when I want. Make sure tomorrow morning everything is ready for departure and that will be that!"

And he returned to his cabin, where they could hear him cursing above the roaring of the waves.

Chapter 2

More fierce and wilder than the past few days, the storm battered the coast the next morning. Higher than ever the waves lashed at the ship's walls, which was anchored safely at the docks.

Black clouds held the darkness above the harbour. Yet the voice of the reckless captain echoed across the deck: "Hoist the sails! Lift the anchor! Let's go!"

It almost sounded like a cheer. As if the sturdy command could calm the storm.

The first mate wagered a careful protest: "Captain, " he said, "it's the first day of Easter today and the men are apprehensive about setting sail on such a special day."

But the captain laughed at him. "I am the boss!" He boomed. "And I say that we hoist the anchor. Storm or no storm, Easter or no easter!"

The sailors cheered as they grabbed the ropes. Their skipper was a courageous man and if he deemed it worthy to set sail, then that's what they were going to do.

What nonsense! Had he not guided them through the wildest of seas and across the most dangerous of capes? Was he not the most courageous and smartest skipper of the world?

Overconfident cries drowned out the storm as they hoist the sails.

But as they obediently followed the command of their skipper and against better judgement prepared the ship for it's trip, the sound of the Easter bells rang out above the hurricane noise.

"It's Easter, captain, " the first mate tried again carefully. The skipper cursed loudly. "What about Easter?" he snorted.

"I said we're sailing and so we're sailing! Even if I have to sail for all eternity, we're going!" The sailors fell silent but quickly got back to the task at hand.

The captain of a nearby moored cargo ship came to the railing and through his ship horn said: "What's this? Are you sailing out?"

The proud skipper laughed derisively. "And why not?" he replied. "Man, you're crazy! That's asking for trouble. It's Easter and above all, you can't defy a storm like this for even one mile!"

"We shall see," was the answer of the confident skipper. "In any case we're sailing out!"

He gave the command to raise all sails, and when the large white sheets flapped ominously in the wind, he gave the command to hoist the anchor.

The crew was deeply impressed. Their skipper was a man with real courage and a dreadnought.

What did he say again? "Even if I have to sail for all eternity, we're going!"

They hurried to finish the last of the activities, while the captain paced impatiently across the deck.

De boatsman looked him up to announce that all was ready for departure. In the distance the Easter bells rang loud.

"Your orders have been carried out, captain," said the boatsman. The skipper now stood silently on the prow. His eyes carrying a stark expression; his hands hung slack against his body.

It was as if all all life had left his body. The boatsman also seemed suddenly frozen in place and did not move at all.

The sailors in the rig and on the decks were suddenly silent and moved no more.

The chef stood motionless at the stove in galley. The cabin boy froze mid summersault on the steerage.

All men on board the East-India vessel hung, stood or sat speechless and motionless on their spot.

But the ship jerked into motion! While the crew, as a collection of statues were spread out over the upper and lower deck, the sails caught the wind and inflated.

And without the action of anyone, the ship turned it's prow and chased out of the harbour.

Chapter 3

On the docks a curious crowd gathered, who stared in wonder at the East-India vessel as it sped away. They could not believe their eyes.

In, on the railing and on the deck of the ship, the sailors, the boatsman and the captain stood motionless. None on board moved, still the ship dashed over the waves, straight into the wind.

Who had ever experienced such a thing?

A ship that was departing despite the heaviest of storms... a ship of which the crew stood without lifting a finger... a ship leaving the harbour while the Easter bells rang loud...

The words of the overconfident captain spread like wild fire. "Even if I have to sail for all eternity, we're going!"

There was a collective quiver going through the people on the docks. Such a overconfident provocation was screaming for trouble.

And as if the fear of the onlookers was immediately turned into a visible warning, something peculiar happened.

The sky above the parting ship was laden with dark clouds and nowhere was there a glimmer of light to be seen. Yet the sails were lit up as fiery vanes.

And although there was no column of smoke a sudden fire on board turned the white hull of the ship into a blackened carcass.

Holding their breaths the people on the docks watched as the fiery sails of the ghost ship disappeared over the horizon.

Worried they returned home, while they asked themselves how the adventure would end for the sailors of the East-India vessel. Above their heads the Easter bells still rang loud.

The amazing ghost ship did not make port at any harbour in East-India. Neither did it ever return to any Dutch harbour.

Wives and fiancées left behind received no letters from the sailors and the shipping company received no notice of arrival anywhere in the world.

One had to conclude that the ship of the reckless captain had sunk with all hands. Strangely though nowhere had any floating wreckage washed a shore.

In the home country the event was forgotten and no more thoughts were spared for the ghost ship.

Just a single mother still prayed at night before going to bed for the return of her son and a few wives left behind kept hoping for the safe return of their husbands.

The months became years and it was as if the time had swallowed all memories of the ghost ship.

And then something strange happened. One day a fully loaded cargo ship cruised back to the home country from the East.

Carried by a strong east bound wind the ship traversed the cape of good hope on a single sail.

Suddenly the sailor on lookout shouted astonished. He wrung his eyes and wondered if he was dreaming.

Suddenly on their port side was a ship appeared from behind a wave. And not just a ship!

The sails were bright red and bulb into the wind. Imagine that: a ship that sailed into the wind as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

The sailor again cried in terror and from all sides his mates came running.

Jaws slack, the all stared at the most peculiar ship they had ever seen passing by.

They saw the fiery sales that bulbed into the wind, the blackened hull and masts, the dead silence in front and behind deck... The silence was perhaps the strangest of all.

There was not lookout in the crows nest; No fast sailor feet were climbing in the shrouds and on the bridge stood no order issuing captain.

The only thing moving in the vicinity of the ship, was a black bird circling the mast.

Chapter 4

"A ghost ship!" cried one of the men aghast. "Get the captain!"

The boatsman went to the cabin of the skipper, but before the two men were back on deck, the peculiar ship had disappeared from view just as fast as it had appeared.

The captain laughed at his sailors. "A ghost ship?" he said scornful. "You're probably suffering a heatstroke. Ghost ships don't exist!"

And he ordered his men to immediately get back to work and not to mention any so called ghost ship. But he could not prevent various sailors from silently staring out ahead and occasionally shaking their heads.

They had seen a ship with their own eyes: a ship that was sailing into the wind with fiery sails and a blackened hull.

More and more sightings of a wandering ghost ship reached the fatherland. A lot of people believed these sightings, yet others shrugged their shoulders over it.

A ship that sailed into the wind with bulbed sails! A ship where there was no sailor in the shrouds and no skipper on the bridge!

A ship with blood red sails! Come on! And everyone had presumably seen it in the vicinity of the cape of good hope. It had to be a myth.

But the shipping companies had more and more difficulty acquiring sailors for their ships. And increasingly captains said: "I'd rather not sail around the Cape of Good Hope."

Because the story spread that the ghost ship was spreading death and destruction, that everyone who saw it would fall ill, a prominent shipping company sent one of their best captains to investigate.

One had to put an end to the rumours of that crazy wandering vessel with hot red sails and blackened hull, that was always seen in the vicinity of the Cape of Good Hope!

An end had to be put to the exaggerated fear of the sailors for a ship that of course did not really exist!

But the best captain of the entrepreneurial Company saw it with his own yes: as soon as he rounded the corner at the Cape of Good Hope, his course was almost crossed by a suddenly appearing oncoming ship with hot red sails and a blackened hull.

De intrepid skipper did not run back scared to his cabin and did not become desperate. He remained prudent and said: "This can't be!"

He called all hands on deck and held the follow speech: "Men," he said, pointing to the ghost ship scudding off, "what we're seeing must be an illusion."

"On that strange ship there are no people and yet the sails are hoisted and it sails directly into the wind. No one can explain this."

As he spoke, something terrifying happened. The ghost ship changed course and was now heading full speed towards the schooner of the brave captain.

The sailors shouted: "Watch out! We're being rammed!" But it was already too late. Without slowing down, the ghost ship approached.

On the prow they could clearly see the figure of a man with flowing white hair, but otherwise nothing else on him stirred.

Scattered on the deck were sailors motionless against the mast and railing. "Please stop!" the men on the schooner called.

The ghost ship not bothered with their cry of despair, glided forth over the waves and... sailed straight through the schooner.

On board the schooner, not a single shock or vibration was felt; just an ice cold gust of wind...

It was a while before the crew of the schooner dared speak again.

"I've never experienced anything like that," the boatswain uttered with a hoarse voice. "I think I'm getting old."

But they had all seen it with their own eyes: The blackened hull and mast, the red hot sails, the skipper motionless on the prow.

They had all felt the ice-cold chill the moment the ghost ship went straight through the schooner.

"It was Dutch," the pale looking captain mumbled. "It was carrying the Dutch flag!"

"The Flying Dutchman," someone said. And the name spread like wild fire. At home they would proudly relate how they'd almost touched The Flying Dutchman.

Chapter 5

Years passed again. Old ship made their final trip while new ones were celebrated as they commenced their maiden voyage.

Only the Flying Dutchman chased endlessly over the waves around the Cape of Good Hope.

Many years ago the reckless captain had cursed himself and his crew with the words: "Even if I have to sail for all eternity."

Perhaps one day the wandering ghost ship will find peace. Perhaps that moment has already come to pass.

Lately there have not been anymore sightings of the Flying Dutchman and so it's possible, that the proud captain has repented.

Let's hope for him and his crew for there is no greater punishment from heaven than to have to travel the high seas, never ever making port anywhere in the world.