Danger Point:

South African Lighthouse No. 8

...and a Ghost Ship

Photo from Cape Whale Coast

Commissioned on New Years Day of 1895, the Danger Point Lighthouse is located in the Overberg, near Gansbaai.

I was thrilled to read about the Flying Dutchman connection, but before we venture into the world of myth & legend, let's first deal with the facts:

  • Before the lighthouse was built, ships perished near this part of the coast. There are seven ships believed to have sunk off this part of our coast*, and the most well known vessel is the HMS Birkenhead, which struck an unmapped rock at sea on the morning of 26 February 1852 (around 2am). Of all the souls on board, more than 440 men lost their lives (all the women and children were brought to safety).
  • A monument recording the aforementioned tragic event was erected at the lighthouse, and every year on 26 February, a commemorative service is held.
  • Early lightkeepers wasn't very excited to work here. A popular tourist spot today, is not what it was back then - in addition to the often foul weather, it was also very isolated and boring. (Gansbaai was just a little fisherman's town, with not much going on, the road to Hermanus was a difficult one to travel on, and without modern transportation, Cape Town was too far away.)
  • The lighthouse is open to the public on weekdays between 10 am and 3 pm, but I've also heard that the opening times aren't always strictly observed. (You can always contact 021 449 2400 or lighthouse.tourism@transnet.net for more information though.)

An artist's rendition of the lighthouse - Oil on Wood by Hermanus based Terry Kobus.

As I was looking into the Lighthouse and the history behind it, I found a few references towards the myth that the Flying Dutchman was first spotted from Danger Point. Unfortunately I was unable to find confirmation that this was, in fact, the first place the ghost ship was seen from, but I decided that I'd share the South African Legend with you anyway...

There once was a Dutch sea captain named Hendrik van der Decken, who boasted that he could complete a trip around the Cape during a fierce storm.
He swore that he would keep trying until he made it to the other side, even if it takes him forever.
Sometime between 1641 and 1652 he was lost at sea and is now condemned to sail around the Cape until the end of time as punishment for his sins.
Most importantly, seeing this ghost ship is a sign of bad luck, particularly for sailors.

This version, however, isn't the only one being told around the world. According to Encyclopedia.com, others include detail such as:
  • The captain, who was forced to sail across the ocean forever, did so in exchange for his soul to the devil.
  • Several German versions call the captain Von Falkenberg, and say that it wasn't near South Africa, but in the North Sea. (Some even contended that the devil visited the captain on board his ship, and frequently the two were seen playing dice on deck, the stakes being Von Falkenberg's soul.)
  • The story found it's way into literature through the writer, Heinrich Heine. His rendering added a chance of salvation for the captain - the fates allow him to walk on land once every seven years, and if he wins the affection of a pure maiden during his brief period ashore, he will be set free from the shackles keeping him out at sea for eternity.
  • Then came Richard Wagner's opera Der Fliegende Holländer in 1843, also set in the North Sea, with a captain called Van Derdecken. He seems to have been inspired by Heine, and the maiden to whom the captain makes advances is named Senta. (It makes sense, because Wagner regarded women devoutly as a regenerating force.)
  • Even Frederick Marryat's The Phantom Ship (1839) is based on the folklore.

During the nineteenth century, there were reliable reports of sightings. One from an English ship's log (1835) read that the captain and crew saw it bearing down on them "with all sails set". Another, from the Bacchantein's log (1881), said that it crossed their bows, with a strange red light, before suddenly disappearing - thirteen people saw the phantom vessel, and two other nearby ships also reported seeing the light. [Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology]

Unless you see it with your own two eyes, as with any other myth or urban legend, it is impossible to verify the existence of the Flying Dutchman, but isn't it interesting to ponder...

Image Credit: Mana-Maniac on DeviantArt.com

* "...as you take a meandering day drive from Gansbaai accross the Agulhas Plain and beyond to Cape Infanta, with stops at Bredasdorp, L'Agulhas, Arniston, De Hoop and Port Beaufort, you're passing the hidden wrecks of more than 140 unfortunate vessels that sank along here." (SouthAfrica.net)

Photo also from SouthAfrica.net


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