Fata Morgana is a complex superior mirage. In this instance, in the horizon a narrow band seen can separate an image, casting what looks like another image superior to the original object. In the image above it appears as if the ship is in the air. Below, the image shows a repeat of it up in the air. Sometimes, the image can be inverted. This occurs when rays of light are bent when they pass through layers that are different temperatures.
This legend is talked about among sailors since the late 1700s. The tale says that there was a ship's captain sailing around the most dangerous ocean strait, the Cape of Good Hope. He cursed the elements and swore he would make it no matter what. The ship went down and all perished, but they are said to continue as a ghost ship for eternity in the region of the Southern tip of Africa because of the arrogance. In fact, the legend was picked up and modified for many countries and many sea locations. Perhaps it was both a cautionary tale of man's futility in trying to fight the elements at sea or to explain the Fata Morgana phenomena.
On January 24, 1923 there were four witnesses to the sighting. Fourth Officer N. K. Stone reported seeing a sailing ship with no visible sails surrounded in a luminous mist. The ship moved quickly and silently disappearing as suddenly as it appeared. Second Officer Bennett, a Cadet and a Helmsman witnessed the apparition as well. Both Bennett and Stone confirmed the sighting, but the cadet and helmsman could not be found.
During WWII a German submarine crew reportedly saw the ship as well. 1942 is the last reported sighting of the Flying Dutchman. The witnesses reported the derelict ship sailed into Table Bay and vanished.
Old House Woods
There is a legend in Southern Virginia along a quiet inlet of the Chesapeake that involves a supposed pirate ship that pilfered a great fortune and had to go back out to sea, so buried the treasure just inside the woods off the quiet beach. They went to sea, but were struck down and no one survived. The pirates, it is said, come back to the woods with a lantern at night, searching for the fortune and digging. As well, the legend says that upon occasion locals see a masted ship ride through the waves, up the beach and into the infamous woods.
The Ghost Ship of Northumberland Strait
In the strait near New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, there have been sightings of a ghost ship for 220 years! It is said to be a beautiful schooner with three masts completely ablaze in flames. Some have even tried to rescue the crew on the flaming ship by rowing out on a boat, only to have the ship disappear.
Mirage ghost ships have been seen for centuries and no doubt will continue to be seen. There are plenty of causes of them, such as mirages and real ships in the mists, but it is the truly ghostly ones that linger in a sailor's mind and make him wonder what he would do if he had to confront such a conundrum.
Update: October 2015 - China sees a city in the sky!