Sea Ghosts:

The Flying Dutchman

The Flying Dutchman is without a doubt the most well-known of all ghost ships. Although much of its story is legend, it is based on fact.

A ship captained by Hendrick Vanderdecken set sail in 1680 from Amsterdam to Batavia, in the Dutch East Indies. Legend has it that, Vanderdecken’s ship encountered a severe storm as is was rounding the Cape of Good Hope. Ignoring the dangers of the storm Vanderdecken pressed on. Battered by the storm, the ship foundered, all aboard died. As punishment for his arrogance, Vanderdecken and his ship were doomed to ply the waters near the Cape for eternity.

The Flying Dutchman –was being seen 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. It 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. In 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 last recorded sighting was in 1942 off the coast of Cape Town. Four witnesses saw the Dutchman sail into Table Bay... and disappear.

UB-65 - A German Submarine

In January 1918 the German U-Boat UB65 sailed into the English Channel looking for potential targets. The 'boats starboard lookout, standing on the conning tower, saw an officer standing on the deck just below him, even though all the hatches were shut apart from the one on the tower. He was about to shout a warning to the officer when the figure turned to face the lookout, revealing himself to be the ship's former second officer, killed in an explosion on UB65's maiden journey. His shouts brought the captain to the tower, and he also witnessed the apparition before it disappeared. 

UB65 was built in 1916, but only a week after work started on her, things started going wrong. A steel girder was being swung into place when it suddenly broke its chains and went crashing to the floor, killing one worker outright and badly injuring another, who died in agony two hours later.

Things seemed to go well after that, but just before the ship was finished, three men were overcome by fumes in the engine room and died before rescuers could reach them. On her maiden voyage, UB65 ran into a storm, during which one man was washed overboard. Later, whilst undergoing diving tests, one of the ballast tanks sprang a leak, leaving the crew without any means of replenishing the air. Repairs took 12 hours, by which time the men were half dead with suffocation. On their return to port, the sub was taking on a supply of torpedoes when one of them exploded, killing the second officer and badly damaging the ship, which had to return to the dockyards for repair. 

A few weeks later, just before the sub was due to sail, a crew member ran into the wardroom shouting that the dead officer had just come aboard. Thinking the man was drunk, the captain and another officer ran onto the deck, where they saw another crew member cowering near the conning tower. In a quiet voice, he told the captain that the dead officer had walked up the gangplank and went to the bows. He had then stood there for a few seconds before vanishing into thin air.

The ship soon got a reputation for being haunted, and nobody wanted to serve on her. Eventually the German authorities decided to put a stop to the stories and sent a commodore to investigate the matter.

Sceptical at first, he questioned the entire ship's company, during which he became convinced that the stories were real and not just fancies. The sub was withdrawn from service, and whilst in dock in Belgium, a Lutherian pastor exorcised the ghost. UB65 then went back to sea with a new captain and crew. The captain refused to tolerate any talk of ghosts, threatening the crew with severe penalties if the ghost was even mentioned. The ship completed two tours of duty without trouble, but after the captain was replaced, the hauntings started again.

During May 1918 the sub was cruising up and down the channel, and later the coast of Spain. A petty officer claimed to have seen an unfamiliar face enter the torpedo room, but when he went to investigate there was no-one else there. On one occasion, the torpedo gunner went insane, shouting that the ghost would not leave him alone. He jumped overboard and was never seen again.

On July 10th, an American submarine spotted the UB65 on the surface and prepared to attack. Just prior to the torpedoes being launched however, UB65 blew up in a devastating explosion. When the smoke had cleared, all that could be seen was debris.

She sank with all hands 34 souls.

John Suffill
August 2004

In this programme they identified the wreck by the markings on the props as the UB-65.

The craft was intact, all hatches were open except the forward hatch, suggesting possibly it had flooded at the time of diving and the hatches were opened for the crew to try and escape. 

Paul Giuffrida - Swansea Wales UK   

SS Watertown

In December 1924 James Courtney and Michael Meehan died and were buried at sea. The following day the ships captain seen the faces of his two dead crewmen in the ships wake. He took six photographs nothing showed in five of the photos but the sixth revealed these two faces.

Are they the faces of James Courtney and Michael Meehan?

The Queen Mary

One of the most famous of all cruise ships, the Queen Mary – now a hotel and tourist attraction – is said to be host to several ghosts.

One may be the spirit of John Pedder, a 17-year-old crewman who was crushed to death by a watertight door in 1966 during a routine drill. Unexplained knocking has been heard around this door, and a tour guide reported that she saw a darkly dressed figure as she was leaving the area where Pedder had been killed. She saw his face and recognized that it was Pedder from his photographs.

A mysterious woman in white has been sighted near the front desk. Typically, she disappears behind a pillar and does not reappear. Another ghost, dressed in blue-gray overalls and sporting a long beard, has been spotted is the shaft alley of the engine room. Ghostly voices and laughter have been heard by the ship’s swimming pool. One employee saw the wet footprints of a child appearing on the pool deck... with no one there.

A Vengeful Ghost or Coincidence?

In 1908 the British warship Gladiator sank in Portsmouth Harbour after colliding with the American steam liner St Paul, with the loss of 27 lives.

Incredibly 10 years later to the hour, the St Paul inexplicably capsized in the Hudson River in New York and sank with the loss of four lives. Claims of sabotage were rife but because of the amazing coincidence of the date and time, many believed that the ghost of a dead seaman from the Gladiator was responsible.

Sea Rescue

In 1895, Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail round the world single handed, claimed to have been rescued by a sixteenth century ghost. Taken ill during a ferocious storm in the Azores, the American seaman collapsed on his bunk. When he woke, Slocum saw at the helm of his ship, the Spray, a seaman who said he was the pilot of the Pinta. a caravel, that had sailed with Columbus in 1492.

The apparition could be dismissed as delirium, except that the Spray had remained precisely on course for some 90 miles (144 kms).

S.S. Iron Mountain

It’s understandable how a ship could be lost in the vast, deep, and volatile oceans, but how could a ship completely disappear without a trace in a river? In June, 1872, the S.S. Iron Mountain steamed out of Vicksburg, Mississippi with an on-deck cargo of bailed cotton and barrels of molasses. Heading up the Mississippi River toward its ultimate destination of Pittsburgh, the ship was also towing a line of barges. Later that day, another steamship, the Iroquois Chief, found the barges floating freely downriver. The towline had been cut. The crew of the Iroquois Chief secured the barges and waited for the Iron Mountain to arrive and recover them. But it never did. The Iron Mountain, nor any member of its crew, were ever seen again. Not one trace of a wreck or any piece of its cargo ever surfaced or floated to shore. It simply vanished.

Not a Sea Ghost
But a little story by a very fine artist who paints tall ships and sea-scapes.

Subject: Re: Wonderful

I found your site to be extremely interesting especially the section relating to ghosts at sea.

Personally I never believed in ghosts until one rainy night driving through France at about 2.30am we passed thro' a village. The village was in darkness with the usual minimum of street lighting. As we crossed over a pedestrian crossing there, right in front of us was an old lady, dressed in black and carrying an umbrella. She actually turned her head to look at us.

I ran over her...there was no way she could be avoided. I braked as hard as I could and went back....there was nothing there. Both myself and my wife saw this person and it was some time before I could carry on driving. The mystery was....if she was a real person, on such a wet night why was she carrying the umbrella?

As you will appreciate this is not a tale I recount in the normal course of conversation....and it still causes a chill.

Kindest regards,

Bryan Phillips
Visit Bryans website and take a look at some of his wonderful ships.