The Flying Dutchman is perhaps the most well-known of all ghost ships. Although much of its story is legend, it is based on fact - a vessel captained by Hendrick Vanderdecken, who set sail in 1680 from Amsterdam to Batavia, a port in Dutch East India.
According to the legend, Vanderdecken's ship encountered a severe storm as is was rounding the Cape of Good Hope. Vanderdecken ignored the dangers of the storm - thought by the crew to be a warning from God - and pressed on. Battered by the tempest, the ship foundered, sending all aboard to their deaths. As punishment, they say, Vanderdecken and his ship were doomed to ply the waters near the Cape for eternity.
What has perpetuated this romantic legend is the fact that several people claim to have actually seen The Flying Dutchman - even into the 20th century. One of the first recorded sightings was by the captain and crew of a British ship in 1835. They recorded that they saw the phantom ship approaching in the shroud of a terrible storm. It came so close that the British crew feared the two ships might collide, but then the ghost ship suddenly vanished.
The Flying Dutchman was again seen by two crewmen of the H.M.S. Bacchante in 1881. The following day, one of those men fell from the rigging to his death. As recently as March, 1939, the ghost ship was seen off the coast of South Africa by dozens of bathers who provided detailed descriptions of the ship, although most had probably never seen a 17th century merchantman. The British South Africa Annual of 1939 included the story, derived from newspaper reports: "With uncanny volition, the ship sailed steadily on as the Glencairn beachfolk stood about keenly discussing the whys and wherefores of the vessel. Just as the excitement reached its climax, however, the mystery ship vanished into thin air as strangely as it had come."
The last recorded sighting was in 1942 off the coast of Cape Town. Four witnesses saw the Dutchman sail into Table Bay... and disappear.