When we think of ghost ships, we’re supposed to imagine them as rare and transient vessels depicting a tragedy that befell the crew of a vessel a long time ago. Or else we imagine a derelict devoid of intelligence and holding a mystery on-board with all of the ship’s passengers missing. But one story from the long and rich history of Chiloe Island, suggests that one ghost ship, the Caleuche, could be so much more than a typical ghost ship. And the fact that the legend also suggests that it is seen by someone somewhere every night is no small matter either.
It’s said witnesses who observe the distant ship will note the sounds of merriment and music on-board as the lurching behemoth glows with its mournful chorus all around it both fascinating and chilling those who witness its approach. The people on-board are said to be gloriously happy as though everything – including death – were somehow cast away into the distant inky blackness of night with only the warmth and happiness of the moment remaining. And that’s precisely, according to the legend, what has happened to them. It’s said the crew on-board the ship are the undiscovered lost souls of the sea who have been brought back to life by the mythical mermaids who tend to the missing and bring them to the Caleuche so that their existence need not be one of loneliness tumbled by the harsh and unforgiving waves of the ocean forever.
But not all of those on-board the ship are necessarily good. The mysterious and ancient warlocks of Chilote lore are also able to make their way onto the vessel by means of a massive horse capable of galloping over water. The sorcerers, despite their evil nature however, are welcomed with open arms aboard the ship where the festivities continue.
But not necessarily treated so well are the kidnapped fishermen who are dragged screaming aboard the vessel and must live out the rest of their existence performing the duties of the ship and maintaining the ever growing party. These fishermen have been said to occasionally come into conflict with the vessel itself, though the “guests” of the party are generally not interested in fighting. Rather the Caleuche acts as a sentient being in itself which ensures the fishermen perform its duties, although how is a matter that changes from story to story. Some say it has the ability to control the minds of fishermen while others suggest it could have something to do with another mysterious group of entities on-board who rise up from the bilge only on the rare occasions when a mutiny seems certain.
The legend of the Caleuche is one of the more bizarre stories of a ghost ship, but it is also one of the more interesting ones. Where could such an artifact have come from in the minds of the storyteller? Is it deeply symbolic of some aspect of their existence? Or is there perhaps something else behind it lurking and yet to be revealed – something suggesting it could be more than just a story?