Up close and personal with the 17th century
September 11, 2019
The sinking of the Vasa
On 10th August 1628, the royal flagship Vasa set sail in Stockholm harbour on her maiden voyage. Her Dutch designers were nervous of her seaworthiness, but the Swedish court was equally nervous of communicating this to the king.
Within minutes, a gust of wind caught her sails, and the ship listed dangerously to one side. To the relief of the onlookers, the wind dropped and she righted herself, but moments later a second gust tipped her further over, seawater rushed in through the gun ports, and the ship swiftly disappeared beneath the water.
Of around 450 men (and women) on board, it is estimated that 30 died.
Vasa lay on the seabed for 333 years until the wreck was salvaged in 1961, and the process of conservation began. If she had sailed well, we wouldn’t have her today.
The ship was reconstructed from 40,000 finds, and the Vasa Museum claims that what we see today is 98% original. The rigging consists of 4km of new rope, secured by deadeyes, the lighter coloured of which are replicas, the dark ones are original.
The state of preservation of the wreck is attributed to the waters of the harbour being being less salty than the open sea, and the thick layers of mud and silt that accumulated over the ship.
Conservation continues, but it’s believed that she cannot be preserved for ever.
The Vasa Museum
Visible across the harbour, the exterior of the museum is topped by three red masts. They represent the original height of the upper timbers of the Vasa, which were not recovered.
Inside, the museum is arranged over 5 levels, so you can get very close to the ship itself. On each level are exhibits which are a time capsule, giving an insight into the complete society that existed on board.
It’s the personal effects that provoke your emotional response
This sea chest lay unopened until the ship was raised; inside was its owner’s hat, and under it his belongings were found undisturbed. They are displayed in a case nearby: his shoes, a pair of gauntlets, vessels for eating and drinking, a few coins….
The ship’s crew was served by only two latrines, in the foc’sle; (it must have been an exposed and risky business to use them in heavy seas!)
Look for the tall rectangular ‘box’ in the photo….
Vasa was built as a symbol of
Swedish royal power
Her stern is higher than was normal for a ship of this period, partly to accommodate the elaborate decorative sculptures.
Traces of paint and gold leaf have revealed that the ship was originally ornamented with gilding and brightly coloured paint.
She is typical of Dutch ships of the time, intended to sail the shallow waters of the Baltic. The lack of a deep keel was compensated for by a broad beam to accommodate rocks as ballast.
It is believed that her height, the extensive surface area of the sails, and inadequate ballast, all contributed to her sinking.
The wreck also revealed that Vasa sailed her first and final voyage with her gunports open….
You can pre-book tickets online to avoid crowds at busy times.
A visit for two costs 300 kronor, about £25