In the 1620s, Swedish King Gustav II Adolf decided to expand the Swedish war fleet to increase their control of the Baltic Sea. He gave orders to build ships that would surpass any others that were already present in the waters of the Baltic. His greatest hope was for Vasa (Swedish: Vasa, also known as Vaza). Gustav II Adolf personally approved its size and armament composition. As early as during construction, the ship was given the title of a royal ship.

Sixteen hectares of oak wood were cut down for the construction. The ship was being built by more than 400 people. In order to emphasize the ship’s special status, the best carpenters, blacksmiths, woodworkers, and painters were invited. It was decorated with carved gilded sculptures. The ship was launched in 1627 and excited the pride and admiration of the people of Stockholm. It was 52 meters high from stem to keel and weighed 1,200 tons, equipped with three masts and ten sails.

On August 10, the ship set out on her maiden voyage with its final destination the Älvsnabben Naval Base. Not only the crew were on board, but their families, including their wives and children, were allowed to take part in the first, ceremonial voyage. But the ship of great hopes sank in its first voyage out of Stockholm harbor. Not far from the shore, a gust of wind tilted the ship and it went overboard with the sails raised. Out of the 150 people on board, at least 30 died. 

The disaster causes were investigated at the highest level. It turned out that there had been design errors in the ship’s construction: Vasa had a too high center of gravity and was too narrow. No one was found guilty. The ship’s chief builder died a year before the disaster, others responsible for the ship indicated that the ship was built to the dimensions approved by the king himself, and no one would accuse Gustav II Adolf. 

After the disaster, there were numerous attempts to raise the ship from the bottom, because 64 bronze cannons that could be used in the future sank with the ship, but many attempts were doomed to failure. So, engineer Jan Balmer tried to raise Vasa, but the ship only went even deeper into the silt. The main difficulty was related to the fact that the ship sank intact, and the divers had to pull through the cannon port in complete darkness and coldness a gun weighing almost a ton. Even in the 21st century, such an operation is not easy to carry out with modern equipment, while back then the divers had only a hook and hammer. Thanks to the most complex operation, in 1664-1665 divers raised 53 cannons, after which the ship was consigned to oblivion for some time. 

In the mid-20th century, engineer Anders Fransen, who was a major expert on the naval history of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, became interested in the history of Vasa. He used ancient maps to determine the ship’s approximate location. He was sure that “it is still there,” because the Baltic Sea water is less salty and, therefore, there are no shipworms there.

On August 25, 1956, the Fransen lot (a depth measuring device), which had been dropped to the bottom, hit something hard, and it turned out to be a piece of oak. A few days later a diver went down to the site, at a depth of 32 meters he found a well-preserved ship. On April 24, 1961, the ship was brought to the surface, together with 14,000 pieces of wood.

During the “world's largest puzzle” assembly, it turned out that not all parts of the ship had survived. Nevertheless, the available information was enough to recreate the original. The ship was 98% intact. This number of preserved details is a treasure chest of information for historians, dendrologists (botanists who study woody plants), osteologists (experts who study skeletons) and other specialists. Any visitor to Stockholm can also take a look at the old ship in a special museum. In addition to the Vasa ship, the museum has thematic exhibitions devoted to the ship’s history and short voyage. Now Vasa is known as the world's only surviving sailing ship of the early seventeenth century.


Vasa Museum.

Vasa (ship). Wikipedia.

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