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Pat Linse


Michael Shermer


Daniel Loxton


Pat Linse is the creator of and Editor in Chief of JUNIOR SKEPTIC. She wrote many of the early issues.

Jim W. W. Smith is a cartoonist and CGI illustrator who works regularly with Daniel Loxton on JUNIOR SKEPTIC and a variety of book projects for kids.

Daniel Loxton is the Editor of JUNIOR SKEPTIC, and writes and illustrates most is2 sues. Daniel is the author of Evolu_ tion: How We and All Living Things Came to Be and other books.

Thank you to Adrienne Mayor.

This Issue’s Cover features a digital painting by Daniel Loxton.


Today we’re leaving safe shores far behind, and sailing out over the waves in search of the sea’s eeriest mysteries.

Imagine the ocean at night, a thousand miles from the nearest city light. Imagine cold salt wind on your face, sails overhead, a creaking deck beneath your feet. Suddenly a shadow looms out of the darkness, masts and tattered sails silhouetted against the sky. Your crew shouts in alarm, spinning the wheel to avoid a collision. A strange ship slides by. It is silent and empty, without a living soul on board. Passing like a phantom, it vanishes into the night. What just happened? Can tales of ghost ships be explained?

Let’s find out!


Sailors have always faced a grim and terrible truth: the ocean is dangerous. Sometimes it is deadly. Our species evolved to wander grasslands, not to cross vast blue seas. Yet we are clever, adaptable, and brave. For thousands of years we’ve sailed ships across oceans— but always at our peril, especially in the days of sail and wind. Frail wooden sailing ships did not always survive their journeys; sailors who voyaged forth did not always return.

JUNIOR SKEPTIC No. 65 (4237)

The ocean’s foreboding depths and strange creatures have inspired countless legends and superstitions over the centuries. We’ve examined some ancient and modern legends in the pages of JUNIOR SKEPTIC, including tales of mermaids (inside SKEPTIC Vol. 18 No. 3), the kraken (SKEPTIC Vol. 16 No. 3), and the Bermuda Triangle (SKEPTIC Vol. 10 No. 3). Some stories describe wonders and mysteries of the deep. Many others echo the fears of sailors who knew that every ocean voyage could be their last.

Not surprisingly, the all too real dangers of drowning and shipwreck have inspired countless ghost stories. Some ships are said to be haunted by the spirits of dead passengers, builders, or crew. Other stories claim more than ghosts may rise from the wreckage of a sunken ship—the entire ship may appear as a phantom to haunt the ocean itself. Sightings of ghostly vessels have been reported in areas where real ships met with disaster. In some stories, ghost ships are even said to be cursed to wander the seas forever.


JUNIOR SKEPTIC No. 65 (4237)

There are many stories of phantom ships, but the most famous by far is the legend of the Flying Dutchman. For centuries sailors spoke of a ship cursed to sail for all eternity. It was a terrifying apparition. Merely to see it meant ill fortune, bad weather, even death.

There are many versions of the story. These may or may not have been inspired originally by a true shipwreck. It’s hard to be sure because the tale is so old. It was told and retold on sea voyages and in wharfside saloons long before it was written down. The true origins of the legend may be lost to history.

What is clear is that it has been a widely told story for well over two hundred years. In that time, many people claimed to have seen the Dutchman with their own eyes. In 1790 a travel writer described a storm that almost sank his ship. Several sailors “were washed overboard, and never seen again. … The weather was so stormy that the sailors said they saw the Flying Dutchman.” The writer explained that the “common story is that this Dutchman” sank in a storm, and “ever since in very bad weather her vision appears.”

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About Skeptic

CAMPUS CRAZINESS: THE WAR ON SCIENCE No Barriers to Inquiry; I Am Not a Racist, And So Are You: An Unauthorized Peek at the Great Shaming Taking Place at an Institution of Higher Learning Near You, and Other Fireside Tales; Radically Wrong in Berkeley; When Secularism Becomes a Religion: The Alt-Left, the Alt-Right, and Moral Righteousness; When Science Becomes the Enemy SPECIAL SECTION — BIOLOGY & BEHAVIOR Canine Cognition: Did dogs become smarter through domestication? An interview with Dr. Brian Hare; Bird Brains: Are crows as intelligent as some scientists claim?; What Biology Can Teach Us About Crime and Justice ARTICLES: Gary Taubes and the Case Against Sugar; From Camelot to Conspiracy: Memory, Myth, and the Death of JFK; Now Playing at a Cartesian Theater Near You: Dualism Returns COLUMNS: The SkepDoc: Diet Sodas: Are the Dangers In the Chemicals or the Headlines?, by Harriet Hall, M.D. JUNIOR SKEPTIC: Ghost Ships, by Daniel Loxton