Spooky Stories from the High Seas

It’s almost Halloween, and it’s hard to go anywhere without seeing witches, goblins, and ghosts. You’re not even safe on the water, where mysterious things happen to captains and crews. Here are some of our favorite ghost ship stories from around the world.

The Flying Dutchman by Charles Temple Dix. Source:

The Flying Dutchman

This unnamed ship is known for its mad, Dutch captain – the Flying Dutchman – who challenged the seas around the Cape of Good Hope. It may have sailed in 1641, or possibly 1729. No one’s sure when the fabled ship set out, but it didn’t survive. Defeated by a storm, legend calls it a cursed ship, carrying the dead and leading others to a watery grave.

Despite the myth, sailors have spotted the Dutchman for centuries. In 1835, it nearly collided with a British ship, terrifying the crew before the Dutchman disappeared. In 1881, another British ship spotted the Dutchman near the tip of Africa. As recently as 1942 it was seen near Cape Town before once again vanishing.

The Mary Celeste

Undamaged. Fully Stocked. Abandoned.

In 1872, the Mary Celeste was found floating near Portugal. Her sails were up, there was no sign of struggle or damage, yet every passenger and crew member was gone. For centuries, people have struggled to understand what happened. What would scare a crew – and captain – so badly as to abandon a perfectly good ship? If the Mary Celeste had been attacked, or if the crew had mutinied, where was the blood and signs of struggle?

After the ship was returned to port, it took three months of investigations for the authorities to declare no evidence of foul play, but the speculation continued. In 2002, documentarian Anne MacGregor launched her own investigation. Even with modern technology and science, however, we can only guess at what happened to the passengers and crew.

Le Griffon

Not all ghost ships sail the oceans. In 1679, the French ship Le Griffon, built by explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, sailed its maiden voyage from Niagara to modern day Green Bay, Wisconsin. It was the first ship of its kind to sail the Great Lakes.

The ship left Wisconsin to return to Niagara on September 18 and was never seen again. Because the Great Lakes are prone to severe and sudden storms – especially in autumn ­– most people assume Le Griffon sank, but it does still appear near Green Bay under full mast before vanishing as sailors approach. In 2014, two Michigan treasure hunters claimed to have found the wreckage in Lake Michigan, but the 335-year-old mystery has yet to be solved.

We hope you have a happy (and ghost-free) Halloween!

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