Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Story of the Vasa

The Vasa

One of the most popular sites to visit in Stockholm, Sweden, is the Vasa Museum.  The museum was built to focus on just one particular piece of history.  To tell the story of a 17th century Swedish warship named the Vasa.  The interior of the building covers about 135,000 square feet of floor space with 81,000 of that devoted to exhibits.  This is amazing when you consider that it is all devoted to one ship and that it can't actually house the entire ship!  The masts, towering 172' from the keel, raise out of the museum's roof. 

1:10 scale model of the Vasa
The story of the Vasa is a sad one.  Built over two years (1626-1628), it was created with the intention of intimidating Sweden's enemies.  Its size, number of cannons, unique design and splendor were meant to impress.  Almost 200' in length, 172' high, with a narrow width of under 40', it was the first ship Sweden built with double rows of cannons allowing for 64 of them.  She could carry a crew of over 100 plus 300 soldiers.

On August 10, 1628, the day of Vasa's inaugural sail, the ship was loaded with crew, guests and soldiers. Her gun ports were open and the cannons were ready to fire celebratory salutes as she grandly sailed through the harbor.  Stockholm's citizens lined the streets and hills around the city eager to see the new ship set sail. Vasa made it less than one mile before a strong gust of wind heeled the ship over.  Vasa was able to partially right itself, but then another gust tipped her to the point that the open cannon ports took on water and the ship began to sink.  Within minutes she was lying at the bottom of the harbor in 95' of water.  A number of people drowned, most made it to shore.

What is so unique to this story is the ending.  After remaining underwater for 333 years, Vasa was salvaged in 1961.  It took 5 months to raise the 1500 ton hull and more than 40,000 objects were brought to the surface.  For the next 17 years the ship was continually sprayed with Polyethylene Glycol to prevent the wood from shrinking and cracking as it dried. Conservationists worked for 10 years to save the sails. The cold northern water had preserved the Vasa to such an extent that the reconstructed vessel is 98% original. 

Notice the person in the lower right corner.  This gives you some idea of the ships size.
Unfortunately, we couldn't stand far enough away to put the whole ship in one photo. 

During the time the Vasa was constructed, ship builders in Sweden did not
use drawing plans.  They were given an overall dimension for the ship and
used proportion and the "rule of thumb" to build the ship.
Vasa was top heavy - too narrow for her height - making her unstable.

Over a 1000 Oak trees were used to construct Vasa's hull.

The gun ports are adorned with fierce looking lions and soldiers ready to do battle.

Vasa's stern now...

and then.

Details of Vasa's wood carvings.

All of the dark woodwork is original.  The lighter color wood is new.

Vasa's conservation is an ongoing process but in all likelihood she will not last forever.  For more information on Vasa, her salvage, reconstruction and conservation visit the museum's website at www.vasamuseet.se.   

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