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According to Chilean legend, the Caleuche is a large ghost ship sailing the seas around Chiloé (a small island off the coast of Chile) at night. The Caleuche is said to be a being who is conscious and sentient. The ship appears as a beautiful and bright white sailing ship, with 3 masts of 5 sails each, always full of lights and with the sounds of a party on board, but quickly disappears again, leaving no evidence of its presence. The ghost ship is also known to be able to navigate under water, just like another well known ghost ship, the Flying Dutchman.
There are various versions of the legend of the Caleuche.
One version claims that it is crewed by the drowned, who are brought to the ship by three Chilote mythological figures, two sisters: the sirena chilota (a type of mermaid) and the Pincoya and their brother, the Pincoy. Once aboard, the dead can resume an existence as if they were alive again.
A similar version of the legend is that the mythical ship appears in the sea of the Chiloé Archipelago where it captivates fishermen and sailors with its enchanting music to enslave them as part of their crew for eternity. These slaves are defined as eternally having a leg folded over their back, similar to the Imbunche of Chilote mythology.
Another common version is that it is the magic ship that the Warlocks of Chiloé use to have parties and transport their goods. It is also used by the warlocks every three months when they go on a journey to improve their magical abilities. The warlocks are only able to reach the ship by summoning caballo marino chilote. This is because Millalobo (the king of the seas) has prohibited any other people from boarding the ship or getting to it by any other means.
Another version is that the crew of the Caleuche makes magical pacts with certain traders ensuring them prosperity in exchange for favors such as using their houses for parties or other illegal or dark purposes. Because of this version of the legend when a person in Chiloé gets rich quickly, it is often attributed to his having made a pact with the crew of the Caleuche. Rumors like these were rampant following the 1960 Valdivia earthquake because some houses were untouched by the fires that swept through Chiloé afterwards. In that same decade there were stories that the sounds of a ship dropping anchor could be heard around the houses of many prosperous merchants in the Chiloé archipelago. These were supposedly the sounds of the Caleuche stealthily delivering goods and treasures to those with whom it had a pact. However, most people rejected this supernatural explanation and instead blamed the merchant's prosperity on mortal, rather than supernatural, smugglers.
The legend of the Caleuche is referred to in Alastair Reynolds' 2001 novel Chasm City, when the Chilean crewmembers of a generation ship discover a 'ghost ship' trailing the flotilla of colony vessels and dub the ship 'Caleuche'.
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- Pérez, Floridor (2007). Mitos y leyendas de Chile. Santiago de Chile: Zig-Zag.