According to Wagner’s memoirs, his decision to travel by ship to London rather than overland to Paris was due to the presence of an unusual traveling companion: his Newfoundland dog, Robber. Wagner reasoned that it would be easy to travel with Robber on a ship, while transporting him by carriage would have been almost impossible. Nevertheless, Robber’s presence on the boat was not without its complications. During the voyage both Richard and Minna suffered severe sea sickness and spent a good deal of time sleeping in the captain’s birth, where Robber watched over them carefully. Unfortunately, the cask containing the ship’s brandy was stored under the very berth where the Wagners slept, and Robber growled furiously at any sailor who attempted to approach the barrel.
Over the years, the story of the Flying Dutchman has appeared in numerous novels, movies, TV shows, and music albums—as well as the Disney franchise Pirates of the Caribbean. In the 2006 film Dead Man’s Chest, the pirate Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) sails a ship called The Flying Dutchman; in the sequel, 2007’s At World’s End, the hero Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) takes control of the ship, although this means that, like the captain in Wagner’s opera, he can set foot on land only once every few years.
Wagner’s stormy voyage on the Thetis didn’t just inspire the story of Der Fliegende Holländer—it actually inspired the sound of the opera, as well. Later in life, Wagner would claim that the cries of the Thetis’s crew directly inspired the opening lines of the opera, when Daland’s crew can be heard singing as their ship nears Sandwike.