One of the most well-known legends of Chiloé Island speaks of a special ghost ship. ‘The Sailor’, the ‘Ship of Fire’, the ‘Ship of Arts*’, or simply ‘Barcoiche’, are some of the names given to this mysterious vessel of the Chilote waters.
Descriptions of the Caleuche mention that it is a brig that sails, roams and appears – quite frequently – in the channels of the south. It can sail on the surface of the sea as well as under water; but it never does it in plain daylight. It usually appears at night, brightly lit with multicolored lights, and according to a few witnesses, you can always hear music playing as in a never-ending party. However, it is always hidden behind a dense fog that the ship itself seems to create. Thus, Chilotes believe that the people who say they saw it, actually just ‘sensed’ it. This, because it is true that – from time to time – you can hear the sound of music and chains when you are navigating the channels of Chiloé in the middle of the night, but you cannot see anything there.
If by chance a person comes close to it, or if a person intentionally goes near it to look at the ship, the Caleuche has the power to turn into something else, such as a floating log, a rock, or any other inanimate object, and becomes invisible to the eye. The crew seems to have the same power, and they can turn into sea lions or birds. But if someone really wants to see it and doesn’t want to be spotted by the sailors of the Barcoiche, that person should put a sod in their mouth because the first thing they sense is the person’s breath. There are also some special trees you can hide behind, such as ‘maqui’ and ‘tique’ in order to achieve the same result.
Witnesses also mention that the crew is composed of two kinds of people: the ‘wizards’, who board the ship from land carried by their ‘sea horses’; and the ‘castaways’, who were saved from shipwrecks and upon touching the ship came to eternal and joyous life. This is one of the functions of the Caleuche: to help and pick up the dead after a ship has sunk or had an accident.
Once in a while, the crew of this Ship of Arts comes to land to have fun. They can do this in two ways: at the house of a Chilote friend, or at the house of an individual who was forced to throw a party as a punishment for his/her wrongdoings. In the first case, the sailors of the Caleuche thank the friend with treasures as a reward. In the second case, however, the person is left poor and in misery. These cases explain why some Chilote people become rich so quickly, while others become poor in no time.
After the land parties – which are always full of food and other excesses – finish, the ‘Caleuchans’ happily return to their ship and weigh anchor, making the loud noise of chains that is heard in the darkest nights of Chiloé, and they continue with their eternal voyage along the shores of the island.