Tales of Ghost Ships have been crossing the world’s oceans as long as sailors have. Sometimes these eerie tales whisper of phantom ships, harbingers of doom, while other ghost ships are very real vessels that inexplicably sail the seas long after the crew have mysteriously (and often tragically) died or disappeared. Then there are those ghost ships of which both the vessel and its crew are perfectly real; however, passengers who met untimely deaths continue to haunt the decks. With All Hallows Eve right around the corner, we’ve offering you a two-part collection of our ghostly tales to help keep you alert on that next watch during the witching hours.
There are dozens of legends about this mythical ship and her crew-of- the-dead who are doomed to sail the seas until Judgment Day. It’s said that the ship’s captain made a deal with the devil and became famous for his ability to make the passage between Holland and Java in impossibly good time. Sure they could outrun capture, the crew eventually committed a terrible crime (although some versions claim they became infected with the plague) and the vessel was prohibited from entering port. Undaunted by denial of entry and confident in his ability to sail through at record speed, the captain attempted to round the Cape of Good Hope during a terrible storm.
When the frightened crew begged the captain to seek safe harbor, the captain swore into the wind that he and his crew would round the Cape “if he had to beat about the waves until Judgment Day.” The ship foundered in the storm and all aboard perished. But true to the captain’s word, Flying Dutchman continues to sail the seas with her damned crew still trying to complete her ill-fated passage.
There have been hundreds who claim to have seen this ghost ship, which supposedly hovers above the waves with an eerie, glowing mist about its masts in lieu of sails. The ship is believed to be a harbinger of imminent doom. One of the most famous sightings was reported by Prince George of Wales in the late 1800s, while making a passage off the coast of Australia between Sydney and Melbourne. He claimed at least 13 crewmembers spotted a glowing phantom ship at four a.m. The omen manifested itself later that day when the crewman who originally spotted Flying Dutchman fell from the foretopmast and was “smashed to atoms.”
There is some skepticism as to whether Ourang Medan actually existed, but its legend is well known. Around 1948, Morse code distress signals were picked up by several ships off the coast of Indonesia. The vessel in distress was a Dutch freighter called Ourang Medan, a Malay name meaning “Man from Medan.”
Though the distress calls were intermittent and garbled at times, nearby ships were able to ascertain that the captain and all the officers were dead, the entire crew was in jeopardy and after several attempts at additional transmissions, a final message simply said, “I die.”
Shortly after the last transmission, a vessel responding to the distress was able to locate Ourang Medan. The ship appeared to be in sound condition, but there was no response to the attempts to make contact, so a boarding party was dispatched. Upon entering the ship, they found a terrifying scene. The entire crew was found dead, their bodies were contorted with arms outstretched, eyes open and expressions of horror on their faces. Even the ship’s dog was found dead, baring his teeth at some phantom adversary. Yet upon closer observation, no injuries were observed on any of the bodies.
After some deliberation, a decision was made to tow the vessel to port to investigate the tragedy. However, as the salvaging crew prepared to tow the vessel, smoke began to pour out the hull. The crew was forced to abandon the ship and cut the lines to escape the thick smoke. Moments later, Ourang Medan exploded. Macabre speculation continues to surround the fate of the freighter and her unfortunate crew. There are those who believe that the crew was terrorized by demons or extraterrestrials; other stories claim the ship was carrying gruesome chemical weapons that accidentally killed the unprotected civilian crew charged with transporting them. And of course there are conspiracy theorists who say it was a military crew disguised aboard a civilian ship, carrying a mystery weapon that may have changed the course of history had Ourang Medan not met an untimely end.
Legend says Octavius was found adrift off Greenland in 1775. When she was boarded, her crew was found frozen and perfectly preserved. The captain was found seated in his cabin, frozen in place while making his last entry in the logbook. The date of the entry was 1762, meaning the frozen crew had been sailing the Arctic for 13 years.
Though there are those who swear the legend of Octavius is true, no actual record of the vessel has been found, leading some to believe that it might be a mistelling of the Baychimo ghost ship. But you'll have to wait for the next installment of our stories to find out why!