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Ghost Ships and Seafaring Spirits

Updated: Jul 27, 2022

Throughout the history of time, spirits and ghosts have not only haunted dry land, but the seas as well. Majestic ships made of wood and steel have sailed the oceans, seemingly untouchable, and have faced some of the same disasters that have happen on dry land. In most cases of a spiritual haunting, the haunts were triggered by unforeseen events and disasters. In the following cases, on the high seas, ghosts and spirits still seem to haunt the locations where these disasters took place.

First Reported Haunting

According to folklore, one of the first reported haunting on the water was a famous one that you have probably heard of. Referred to as The Flying Dutchman, it is a fog-like ghost ship whose sightings have been reported as far back in history as 1641. The story started out as a Dutch tale about a Captain named Bernard Fokke.

He was renowned for his speedy travels from Holland, Netherlands to Java, Indonesia. He was also believed to be involved with the devil since his journeys seemed impossibly quick for the times. According to some of the stories, the Dutchman swore he would not retreat in the face of a storm. Instead, he would continue to travel around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa, even if it took until “Judgment Day.” According to other versions of the story, either a horrible crime took place on board, or the crew was infected with a certain disease that prevented the crew from docking and departing the ship into a port or town. Apparently, the crew was doomed to sail the seas forever, never to go ashore again.

One of the most famous sightings of the ghostly Flying Dutchman was in 1823. HMS Leven and Captain WFW Owen, a Royal Navy Surveyor, sighted the phantom ship twice. On one occasion, it was seen lowering a boat in an assumed attempt to communicate. Sensing danger, Captain Owen did not respond.

Another famous Royal Navy sighting of the Dutchman was in 1881 by a midshipman of the HMS Bacchante, now recorded in history as King George V. In his diary, on July 11, he wrote, “At four a.m. the Flying Dutchman crossed our bows.” The look-out for the ship that had reported to him, and the officer on watch, had also sighted the ghostly phenomenon off of the port bow. Prince George described,"... a strange red light, as of a phantom ship, all aglow in the midst of which light the mast, spars and sails of a brig two hundred yards distant stood out in strong relief as she came up." The ghost ship was also sighted by two other ships in the fleet, the Cleopatra and the Tourmaline. Thirteen members in all saw this phenomenon, and the seaman who first reported the ghost ship died from a fall only seven hours later.

Today, supertankers and other ships that round the bend in the Cape of Good Hope still report seeing The Flying Dutchman.

The British Coast

Another location known for shipwrecks and disasters is the Goodwin Sands off the coast of the British Isles, six miles east of Deal in Kent, England. Legend has it that 50,000 souls have lost their lives in the banks and sands of Goodwin. In addition to shipwrecks in the Goodwin Sands, there have been sea battles as far back as 1652. The Lady Lovibond is one of the most famous of the ships that haunt the seas in this given area. On February 13, 1748 the Lovibond caught its last glimpse of the topside of the sea.

The tragic story of Lady Lovibond begins with the first mate falling in love with the Captain's wife.It ends with the Captain, in a fit of jealous rage, driving the ship onto the Goodwin Sands, killing everyone on board. Legend has it that every fifty years, on the anniversary of the tragedy, the ship returns, sailing off the Kent coast as a ghost ship. If you are interested in trying to see the ship for yourself, the next appearance is due on February 13, 2048. If you’re young enough now to be able to view this historic appearance in the future, then you might be doing it without me. However, if I have passed by then, then I might very well be out there with the crew, having a lager.

Numerous other phantom ship sightings have been reported in this area as well. Another such sighting would include the SS Violet, a paddle steamer that ran aground while crossing the English Channel. This occurred during a snowstorm about 100 years ago. Everyone on board was killed, including two pregnant sisters who supposedly lashed themselves to the deck to keep from being swept overboard. During World War II, sailors from several British ships reportedly saw the ill-fated phantom ship, and heard the screams of the women. The sightings were so vivid that sailors were sent out in lifeboats to investigate.

Ghosts of the Great Lakes USA

There are many tales of ghost ships from the Great Lakes region as dozens of ships have been lost on these storm-tossed waters over the years. Any seasoned sailor on the Great Lakes can tell you that these waters are as dangerous as any ocean. Ships have simply sailed off into oblivion on these lakes, never to be heard from again. The 'W. H. Gilcher' was a coal steamer that was lost in the Straits of Mackinac in 1892.

The 'Nashua' vanished in Lake Huron, and the famous ore carrier the 'Edmund Fitzgerald' sunk in Nov. 1975. The condemned crew is said to still be out there somewhere, searching for salvation. Many ships disappear in the dark waters of the Great Lakes, only to re-emerge later as phantom ships.

In September 18, 1678 off the coast of Green Bay in Lake Michigan, a ship called the Griffon left the docks and simply vanished. In the following years though, several sailors have sworn to have see the Griffon afloat on the lake. The ghost schooner, Erie Board of Trade, has also been spotted in Saginaw Bay. The cursed ship disappeared in Lake Huron in 1883, and according to the stories, was even wrecked by a ghost.

The Captain of the ship had ordered a crewman to go up the main mast to the boatswain's chair, even though the men knew that it was not safe. The man ended up falling to his death, and soon after his ghost started to appear on the deck and in the cabins. The crew told this story while they were in port, and during the next voyage, the ship vanished, and has never been seen again.

Ghost Ships Are Everywhere

Today, we have almost 450 years of world exploration and sea navigation under our belts. Even with all the strictly scientific data that has been gathered, there will always be unexplained Ghost Ship sightings and spiritual phenomena on the high seas. If you are ever out on the waters, and come across a fog or smoke, just remember - don’t be surprised if you see the guy with the glowing eyes on the deck of the sailing vessel across from you…muahahah!!

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