Ghost Ships and Other Spectres that Haunt the Seaside

In this post we’re travelling to the Belgian coastline which is best known for its unsightly concrete apartment buildings and its dreary beaches, but fortunately I have some ghosts for you who make the shore, if not more appealing, at least much more interesting.

The Eternal Fisher

Fishing for shrimp on horseback was an important tradition along the Flemish North Sea coast for centuries, but it was also an activity many were warned not to do on Easter Day. According to one folktale a young man decided to do just that despite his mother telling him that he’ll get himself cursed. Apparently, her son replied that if someone or something were to curse him he would drag his net through the water until the end of times.

As you probably have already guessed, the fisherman and his horse never returned, but his ghostly figure did make regular appearances. It was said his eyes were enchanted and when other fishermen looked into them, they lost their free will and had no choice but to follow the cursed fisher deeper and deeper into the sea until they drowned. There are many variants of this tale and at some point the coastline must have been the realm of hundreds of similar ghostly figures who helped people meet their maker in the sea.

Nachtelijk strandgezicht, Léon Spilliaert.

The Torturous Ghost Field

Not very far away from the sea, there used to be a sheep pasture that many people crossed to reach a chapel that many pilgrims cherished. Worshippers would pray and chant along the way, but would stop when they reached the green field and nervously look around them. Most of them had heard the stories and knew that they must say ‘go ahead, I will follow you’ before walking on the grass, but every now and then, there was someone who hadn’t heard the stories whispered on the nearby town square, and crossed without saying a word.

Immediately, a heavy pressure descended on their shoulders. Their shoes filled themselves with invisible lead or heavy blocks which made walking as good as impossible. They felt paralysed and a feeling of unnatural tiredness took over their soul.

The unlucky pilgrims weren’t able to see the ghosts who sat on their necks, but they sure felt the weight of their bodies. Some people screamed for what they described as ‘pure torture’ to stop, while others tried to make their way to the other side in silence, even if it took them hours. They knew that was the only way for the suffering to stop. Once there, someone was bound to explain that the pasture was jam-packed with ghosts who wanted to be carried.

When people started to build homes and construct roads around the pasture, the ghosts fled to the sea. It’s with a lot of regret I have to say that carrying ghosts is an experience we unfortunately have to miss out on.

The Ghost ship

During the 16th century the city of Ostend was better known as ‘the feared robber’s nest.’ It was said that more thieves and murderers loitered in the harbour and roamed unchecked through the busy streets than there were fish in the sea. It was around this time that a captain with a notorious reputation lived in the city. His ship, the Osschaert, was responsible for hundreds of ruthless robberies and everyone associated the name with terror.

Despite the gruesome tales surrounding the ship, and the many enemies the captain and the crew had made, they must have been doing something right since nobody had ever been able to defeat them. One day, that was about to change. They encountered a ship that was much more heartless and brutal than the Osschaert, something that people didn’t even think was possible. 

After a long fight, it started to dawn on the captain that his precious ship was going to sink. He asked God’s forgiveness and protection, but neglected to ask the same thing for his crew. As if that wasn’t enough, he did the worst thing a captain could do by abandoning his ship and the crew. He threw himself into the deep. According to some versions, he survived and lived in terror until his death because he knew these offences carried with them a heavy punishment. According to others, he drowned, but whatever the case, it didn’t really matter since the outcome remained the same.

Léon Spilliaert

He was condemned to sail his ship for a thousand years. It quickly gained a reputation as a feared ghost ship and fishers knew they wouldn’t catch any fish if they saw it. The ship was also often seen in the dunes where the ghost of the captain must still be wandering restlessly, waiting until it’s his time to leave this cursed earth and rejoin the crew he abandoned, probably in hell.

Headless Saints and a Flemish Fairy Tale Retelling

This month I shared a post about a saint who wandered the countryside carrying his head in his hands on Ko-fi and shared a Flemish fairy tale retelling about a man who desperately needs some good luck. His journey takes him to sea, a ghost shows him the way, but he does encounter some angry spirits and drowned souls along the way.

Consider supporting my work over there if you like this post, are able to, and would love to explore Flemish culture further. Anything you can do to help is appreciated so much, truly makes a difference and means the world to me.

Thank you so much for reading! I hope you loved reading about these ghosts just as much as I loved writing about them!

white sketch pad beside cup of coffee


Buy me a coffee so that I can keep writing stories inspired by the wonderful dark world that is Flemish folklore. Anything you can do to help support me is appreciated so much and really makes a difference.


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