National Geographic magazine ran the story about the warship Vasa when I was about 6 or 7. This vessel has intrigued me for all these years. With the coming of the Internet an entire new vista was open to me.

The story of the Vasa is unfortunately a short one, she was built , she set sail and on her maiden voyage she capsized due to water coming in the open gunports on the lower deck. Of the approximately 150 souls on board 25-30 were lost.

The reader may find it interesting and perplexing that there were women and children aboard. In those days it was not all that unusual for a large warship to carry the wives (and sometimes not) and children of the crew. Voyages could be up to 3 years in duration and the powers that were deemed it better to have (feed, clothe, and provide berthing) for women and children than to have the crew disappear at the first chance. Ship in the 17th and 18th centuries did not make port calls as they do now. It was also not unknown to have children born aboard ship.

Another interesting fact about Vasa is that the coldness of the water preserved the ship on almost pristine shape, is that the preservation team took years to preserve the ship. The timbers and wooden parts were sprayed with water and polyethylene glycol. This process took years, as the polyethylene glycol soaked into the wood and replaced the fibers of the wood lost to the ocean. unlike many ship wreck the Vasa was not attacked by teredo worms the bane to wooden ships before the advent of affixing a copper bottom.

Recently the stern galleries have been restored to the stern of the ship. Ships of this period were ornately adorned and represented not only might but also wealth. Sovereigns would spare little cost in the decoration of these ships. Carved faces, and gold leaf were the norm. Vasa was painted in a combination of the Swedish national colour, blue (a bit darker than cornflower blue and gold). Antiquarians researched and mixed the colours especially to match those used on the ship originally.

The museum has recovered many skeletons, although none is known. Using forensic tecniques they have given us an unusual look at the people who were aboard that fateful day...

The VASAMUSEET (Vasa Museum) in Stokholm has placed this on their website...

In the early 17th century, Sweden was busy building an empire around the Baltic Sea in northern Europe. A strong navy was essential. During the 1620s Sweden was at war with Poland. In 1625 the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus ordered new warships. Among them the Vasa.

The Vasa was built at the Stockholm shipyard by Henrik Hybertsson - an experienced Dutch shipbuilder. His experience was much needed as the Vasa was to be the mightiest warship in the world, armed with 64 guns on two gundecks.

In 1628 the ship was ready. Sunday August 10 was the day of the Vasa's maiden voyage. The beaches around Stockholm were filled with spectators, among them foreign diplomats. The maiden voyage was to be an act of propaganda for the ambitious Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus.

The Vasa set sail and fired a salute. But only after a few minutes of sailing the ship began to heel over. She righted herself slightly - and heeled over again. Water started to gush in through the open gunports. And, to everyones horror and disbelief, the glorious and mighty warship suddenly sank! Of the 150 people on board, 30-50 died in the disaster. When Vasa had been salvaged in 1961, archaeologists found the remains of 25 skeletons.

After the disaster the captain of the Vasa - Söfring Hansson - was arrested. The Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus was not in Sweden at the time. He was waging war in Poland. It took two weeks for him to learn about what had happened. When he did, he wrote angrily that the disaster had happened because of "imprudence and negligence" and that the guilty parties had to be punished. Söfring Hansson and many others were called to inquiries at the Royal Castle of Stockholm.

At the inquest people were troubled by the fact that the shipbuilder Henrik Hybertsson had died the year before the Vasa was completed. Instead his brother and partner, Arendt de Groot, was held responsible for the completion of the ship. But in the end no one was condemned for causing the disaster. The people in charge of the inquiries concluded that the ship was well built - but badly proportioned.


No comments: