Terrible tales of ghostly galleons

Halloween is a time of year where ghost ships stories are spoken in hushed whispers by mariners around the UK and Ireland. We want to share a few of our favourites with you this year.

Terrible tales of ghostly galleons

Photo: Nigel Millard

The Fearsome Flying Dutchman

There is no ghost ship more fearsome than the Flying Dutchman, inspiring artists and striking fear in the hearts of sailors for centuries.

A real ship out of Amsterdam, headed for the East Indies, it is said that the captain hit terrible weather and lost his mind. He murdered his first mate and attempted the dangerous Cape of Good Hope crossing, where the ship sank and its ghostly crew were cursed to forever sail the oceans. The Flying Dutchman remains the most commonly sighted ghost ship – even the Prince of Wales claims to have seen it!

The Cursed Mary Celeste

A merchant ship found adrift and seaworthy in 1872, the Mary Celeste remains a compelling chiller. All papers were missing, save for the captain’s log book. The entire crew had vanished without sign of struggle. The crew’s personal belongings and a cargo worth £20,000, were still onboard, ruling out piracy.

Conspiracy theories abound with this one. From ghosts and sea monsters, to contaminated hallucinogenic flour or mutiny gone wrong. It seems likely the mystery will forever remain unsolved.

The Lamentable Lady Lovibond

As far as British mariners are concerned, the Lady Lovibond is the most famous of ghost-ship legends. In 1748 the newlywed captain and wedding party were aboard, celebrating off the south-east coast. John Rivers, first mate and ex-lover of the bride, was overcome with jealousy and slaughtered the captain, running the ship aground in the quicksand of Goodwin Sands.

Every 50 years the Lady Lovibond reappears in Kent waters, with sightings so realistic that lifeboats have been sent to make rescues!

The Odious Ourang Medan

In 1947 two American ships received a distress call off the coast of Malaysia. Claiming to be a crewman aboard the Dutch vessel Ourang Medan, the caller told of an entire crew dead or dying. The messages trailed off and on arrival at the undamaged ship, the American sailors found the whole crew dead, including the dog. Their bodies and faces locked in terrified expression, arms pointing at a mysterious horror.

A sudden fire forced the rescuers to flee, leaving the Ourang Medan to sink. To date, no plausible explanation has been found.

The Calamitous Kaz II

A more recent tale of tragedy, the Kaz II was a 9.8m catamaran found adrift near the Great Barrier Reef. The crew of three were missing, with everything else left in place; sails were up (although damaged), food remained plated on the table, the engine was running and life jackets were stowed neatly. The lack of disruption inside the cabin seems to discount bad weather as the cause of disappearance. Search and rescue was called off after 4 days and no trace was ever found of the men. A modern-day marine mystery.

We want to make sure you and your shipmates don’t end up sailing the seven seas for all of eternity, so heed our advice this Autumn:

1. Wear a Lifejacket

The waters around the UK and Ireland can be incredibly unpredictable. It is vital to wear a lifejacket or buoyancy aid. They save lives and are useless unless worn.

2. Training

You and your crew must possess sufficient skills to use your craft safely. This means acquiring basic knowledge of boathandling, navigation, rules of the road, use of safety equipment and maintenance of the craft and its engine.

3. SOS device

Always carry a means of calling for help. Flares, working radio systems, EPIRBs (emergency position indicating radio beacons) and PLBs (personal locator beacons) are among the most useful tools.

4. Engine and fuel check

Do you have sufficient fuel and spares? Have you completed your engine checks (oil, cooling water etc)? Are all parts of the craft operating correctly?

5. Tides and weather

Check the conditions before heading out. Adjust speed in bumpy conditions or when there are waves ahead. Ebbing tides can create dangerous areas of shallow water, so make sure you know the tidal conditions for your journey.

6. Inform

Make sure that someone ashore knows your plans and understands what to do if they become concerned for your wellbeing. The Voluntary Safety Identification Scheme (CG66) in the UK and the Yacht and Boat Safety Scheme in the RoI are easy to join and free.