Perhaps the most famous of all legends of the sea. There are several variations of it. The most usual story is that of a Dutch skipper, Captain Vanderdecken, who, on a voyage home from Batavia and faced with a howling gale, swore by Donner and Blitzen that he would beat into Table Bay in spite of God's wrath. His ship foundered as he had this oath on his lips, and he was condemned to go on sailing until eternity in his attempt to reach Table Bay. The spectre of his ship is supposed to haunt the waters round the Cape of Good Hope and a strong superstition among sailors is that anyone who sets eyes upon her will die by shipwreck. A German legend concerns a Herr von Falkenberg condemned to sail for ever around the North Sea in a ship without helm or helmsman and playing dice with the devil for his soul. A similar Dutch legend equates the Flying Dutchman with the ghost of the Dutch seaman van Straaten.
The theme of the Flying Dutchman has been used by novelists, poets, and dramatists in marine literature, among the best known being Captain Marryat in his book The Phantom Ship, Scott in his poem ‘Rokeby’, and Wagner in his opera Der Fliegende Holländer. In the opera the captain, Vanderdecken, is allowed ashore once every seven years to find a woman whose love alone can redeem him.
The origin of the legend is uncertain but it is possibly derived from a Norse saga which tells of the Viking Stöte who, having stolen a ring from the gods, was found later as a skeleton in a robe of fire seated on the mainmast of a black spectral ship.