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1942, August 3: HMS Jubilee encounters a Phantom Ship

The Legend:

On August 3, 1942, the British minesweeper HMS Jubilee was on her way to the naval base at Simon's Town, South Africa. It was a quiet and still night with no wind, but a bright moon. At around 9:00 PM first officer Davies, on bridge duty, saw a vessel approaching on the starboard side, an old-fashioned schooner of a make he didn't recognize and sailing at around 20 knots with her sails full... despite the lack of active wind. The ship was carrying no colors (identifying flags), and no lights were showing. When this strange ship came within hailing distance, Davies asked the third officer, Nicholas Monsarrat -- who was sharing the watch that night and was later to become a famous author -- to signal the vessel; the vessel didn't respond. It soon passed them on their starboard side, and neither man could see a sign of anybody aboard the schooner... and it continued on and away, under full sail with no wind. It is believed that this strange encounter was the inspiration for many of Monsarrat's later tales.

Problems, Problems

        The above tale has been repeated as an example of a modern encounter with a legendary phantom ship called the Flying Dutchman, but there is no direct evidence that this is the actual identity of the phantom described.

        For those of you who don't know it, Nicholas Monsarrat is an obvious pick for this sort of claim of an encounter with the paranormal for two reasons; first, he was famous for writing books about true and fictional maritime adventures, and second, some of what he wrote included fictional encounters with phantom vessels. Nonetheless, the earliest source I've been able to find for the account above is 1993; and all copies of the story I've seen appear to be based on this 1993 printing of it, which has two problems. The main problem is that Nicholas Monsarrat didn't serve on the HMS Jubilee in 1942... mainly because it appears there was no HMS Jubilee in existence at the time! This fact was determined by a group of people interested in Monsarrat's naval history, but not aware of the proposed encounter with a phantom ship. Members of the group heard he may have served on a vessel named Jubilee, and so did a search for the vessel in WWII naval lists, where no record of the ship was found. A different group who were tracing the ship histories for various veterans listed this information for Monsarrat and, again, the HMS Jubilee wasn't listed.

        So this investigation can go in several directions now: it's possible that such an encounter was reported, but not for a ship called the Jubilee. It's also possible that a later ship called the Jubilee reported this encounter, and the date is wrong. It's also possible that nothing ever happened, and the whole account is fictional. What would help is either a statement from Monsarrat describing a similar encounter, which the 1993 source claims exists but that I can't find; or a record of a vessel reporting a similar encounter, with or without Monsarrat's name, which is also something I can't yet find. For these reasons, this account must be considered Unreliable as evidence of the paranormal for now!

Newer Variations to Watch For

        The likely fact that Monsarrat wasn't involved seems to have led to a new version of the story. In this version, which I've found in Breverton's Phantasmagoria (2011), we are told the HMS Jubilee had to rapidly change course to avoid hitting a phantom ship; the captain then reported the strange vessel was last seen sailing away under full sail, though there was no wind. It seems a story of a near collision has been substituted for the claim of a famous author's involvement, to keep the account interesting.