I believe there is a ghost ship knocking around in our parts, and it's not just a legend! Doing some research on the Internet, I tripped over some eerie fables about the Bermuda Triangle - but now I am looking out for the red sails of the Flying Dutchman on the horizon right here in Cape Town's False Bay.
According to the tale of the Flying Dutchman, a maniacal Dutch sea captain once struggled to round the Cape of Good Hope in the teeth of a terrible gale that threatened to sink his ship and all aboard.
Despite the pleadings from sailors and passengers, the captain refused to change course, swearing blasphemous oaths. When he finally killed the leader of an ensuing mutiny and threw him overboard, a shadowy figure appeared on the quarterdeck and condemned him to sail the oceans for eternity with a ghostly crew of dead men, "bringing death to all who sight your spectral ship, and to never make port or know a moment's peace."
For centuries the Flying Dutchman was spotted, canvas spread and masts creaking in a fearful wind. Sometimes he lead other ships astray, onto shallow beaches and hidden reefs. The story of the Flying Dutchman has been elaborated by many writers, and apparently it is more than a piece of fiction - it even inspired German composer Richard Wagner to write his opera "Der Fliegende Holländer".
The phantom ship has also been seen in the 20th century, by the crew of a German submarine during World War II amongst others. One of the first recorded sightings, however, occurred on 11 July 1881 when the Royal Navy ship H.M.S. Bacchante was rounding the tip of Africa and sighted the Flying Dutchman.
The midshipman, a prince who later became King George V of England, recorded in his log that the lookout man and the officer of the watch had seen the Flying Dutchman : "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 200 yards distant stood out in strong relief."
As recently as March 1939, the ghost ship was seen here in False Bay by dozens of bathers in neighbouring Glencairn who supplied detailed descriptions of the ship, although most had probably never seen a 17th century merchant vessel. 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 beach folk 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."
Is it true that a phantom ship appears to unsuspecting people here? Having lived in Simon's Town for nine years with a view of False Bay reaching from Cape Point to Muizenberg, I have never seen the Flying Dutchman myself. It is, therefore, not part of my reality - but it could nevertheless be true. The above eyewitness reports are credible enough to suggest that a ghost ship is not mere hocus-pocus.
When we look for 'the truth, and nothing but the truth' in criminal proceedings, it is easy enough to determine 'the truth' - even if the suspected thief is lying, witnesses will testify that he walked into a jewelry store at a certain date and time and stole a golden watch. Sadly, this is a common and believable occurrence these days.
Anything we believe is true for us. Most people today believe that calories affect body weight, viruses cause illness, inflation is inevitable, jails curb crime and weapons create safety. Our conception of the world shapes our daily behaviour, our beliefs determine our 'reality' and the world we experience is the result of the general agreement that things really are the way we think they are.
But are they? Only a few hundred years ago, the earth was believed to be flat and if one sailed too far, beyond 'the four corners' of our world, one would fall off the edge into a great abyss. This became 'the truth' of the Dark Ages because enough persons of authority accepted that belief at the time and used it to extend their positions of power as long as they could.
Beliefs change, however, and the beliefs we hold today are not 'truer' than what people believed some time ago. Beliefs are illusions, actually - an illusion is something that you think is true, but is not.
Another implication of this is that there is no such thing as 'the truth' - we are free to believe anything we want, and no two belief-systems are absolutely identical, so the only truths that exist are 'my truth', 'your truth', 'his truth' and about six billion others.
If we are obsessed with finding 'the truth', we are barking up the wrong tree. Because our age is ruled by facts and science, the idea of illusions ruling our lives is frightening to many. All too easily, however, we overlook the enormous opportunities of being able to believe anything we want, perceive our own truth, act accordingly and therefore create our own reality. Believe it or not, but that's what you and I are doing every day.
If you live in the neighbourhood and see the Flying Dutchman, please let me know, will you? I mean it.
About the Author
Berend Lange has reached a stage in his life where he finds it more important to not prove himself, but improve himself. On bluecrane.info, he offers a fresh perspective on how to overcome the challenges we face in life. He constantly monitors publications on personal growth and his eNewsletter COMPASS keeps subscribers in touch with self improvement by presenting a selection of the best information available.