A Ghostly Boat and a Shiny Schooner

“Fast gliding along, a gloomy bark
Her sails are full, though the wind is still,
And there blows not a breath her sails to fill.

Thomas Moore; 1804

We muse this week under the looming spectre of Halloween, a festival that has mutated over the years. Originally called Samhain, a Gaelic pagan celebration of the end of the harvest season (and onset of the ‘darker half’ of the year), it was reinvented in 609 CE by the Roman Catholic church as the All Saints or All Hallows festival, and it took place on the 1st November each year. Summarising the 1500 years’ worth of history since then would take more than a page or so, but suffice it to say that the modern secular customs of All Hallows’ Eve (or Halloween, as it became known through the Scots pronunciation) were strongly influenced by the festival of Samhain. Once America got hold of Halloween during the mid-19th century, “it was gradually assimilated into mainstream society and by the first decade of the 20th century it was being celebrated coast to coast by people of all social, racial and religious backgrounds.” That quote comes from a book by Nicholas Rogers called ‘From Pagan Ritual to Party Night’, and the title pretty much sums up where Halloween has reached in 2019: ghoulies and ghosties, four-legged beasties and things that bump in the night. Not to mention parties, trick-or-treating and lots of alcohol.

And while we are on ghoulies and ghosties; last week we wrote about a young midshipman called Prince Albert visiting the Cape and effectively kicking off the V&A Waterfront by tossing a load of rocks into the sea. What is not as well known is that another Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s grandson, was one of the first sailors to witness the ghostly Flying Dutchman, the sailing bark doomed never to make landfall. Amongst many other versions of the tale, the captain of the ship was said to be in league with the devil. He was attempting to round Cape Point against the wind, and swore that he would do it “though I should beat about here till the day of judgment.” What can we say? He didn’t make it and continues his efforts eternally.

The Prince’s log entry of the event reads: “July 11th. At 4 a.m. the Flying Dutchman crossed our bows. A strange red light as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the midst of which light the masts, spars and sails of a brig 200 yards distant stood out in strong relief as she came up on the port bow…” He continues by pointing out ominously that thirteen crew members saw the ship, which then disappeared into the night. The final sentence of his log entry is even more disconcerting: “At 10.45 a.m. the ordinary seaman who had this morning reported the Flying Dutchman fell from the foretopmast crosstrees on to the topgallant forecastle and was smashed to atoms.” Perhaps the ghost hunters of the Western Cape should bear the fate of that ordinary seaman in mind as they watch for the Flying Dutchman sailing vainly toward Cape Point time and time again…

Which leads us to resolve another mystery, but there is nothing sinister about this particular event, Halloween or no Halloween. Waterfront Charters beloved schooner Esperance has been missing in action for a couple of months. Unlike the Flying Dutchman, she has not been caught in a time warp; she has been undergoing an upgrading exercise. For those purists who love the idea of sailing beneath full sails on a twin-masted yacht, Esperance is back! She has been out of the water having her innards rearranged to make the space more inviting, and also making sure that her graceful iron hull is as solid as ever. (It is, we can assure you.) Esperance has been part of the Waterfront Charters scene since 2003, and her unique bowsprit has become one of the V&A Waterfront’s more popular attractions. There is something magical about sitting where a ship’s figurehead would normally be affixed, as you plough majestically through the Atlantic swells under sail. And the refurbished interior still provides shelter for those less inclined to get spray in their hair – not to mention a fully stocked bar.

We are extremely happy to have our freshly painted shiny schooner back in the water; join us for an exhilarating cruise soon and you’ll understand exactly why single-hulled sailing is so popular with our guests.