My dear travellers and lovers of unique trips, I hope you are well and ready for new adventures! This is the last post for this month and I wanted to share with you an unusual legend about a luxurious Swedish warship, the Vasa.
Before I start today’s post, I would like to remind you of some of the previous posts from the edition of letters from the Kingdom of Sweden, so if you haven’t had time to read the previous stories or maybe you want to remind yourself of some interesting details, spare a few minutes of your time and by clicking on the given links, visit some of the previous travelogues from Sweden:
1) Stockholm: A Modern Green City of Culture on the Water
2) Everything you need to know about the Royal Palace in Stockholm
Today I will share with you my impressions of the Vasa Museum and the legend of this amazing warship and I would like to thank the Visit Stockholm for the invitation and the amazing experience to get to know the culture and customs in the heart of Scandinavia.
I think the older generations remember the legend of a magnificent warship that was supposed to show power and strength with its beauty and luxury, but sank after traveling 1300 meters from the port… How this ship went from being a great shame to the pride of Sweden, we will discover together in today’s post on the Mr.M blog.
Vasa or Wasa is a famous Swedish warship built between 1626 and 1628. The ship sank after sailing approximately 1,300 m on its maiden voyage on August 16, 1628, at dusk.
Since the Vasa was one of the most expensive ships of all time with modern war equipment and exquisite craftsmanship, you must be wondering what went wrong?
Many questions were asked: Was the ship properly prepared for the wind? Was the crew sober? Is the ballast properly stored? Were the weapons properly secured? However, no one was ready to take the blame. The crew members and the shipbuilders formed two groups and each of them tried to blame the other and all of them swore that they had performed their duty without fault and during the investigation the details of the stability demonstration were revealed.
Then attention was focused on shipbuilders. “Why did you make a ship so narrow, so bad and without enough bottom that it capsized?” the prosecutor asked the shipbuilder Jakobson. Jakobson stated that he built the ship according to the instructions of the master shipbuilder, who in turn followed a specification approved by the king himself. Jacobson actually widened the ship by about half a meter (50 cm) after he took over construction, but the construction of the ship was too far advanced to allow further expansion.
In the end, no culprit could be found. Arent de Groot’s answer, which became legendary, when asked by the court why the ship sank was “Only God knows”. Gustav Adolf approved all the measurements and armament, and the ship was built according to the instructions and loaded with a certain number of guns. In the end, no one was punished or found guilty of negligence, and the blame practically fell on Henrik Hibbertsson.
Some research today has shown that the Vasa sank because it had very little initial stability, which can be thought of as resistance to heeling under the action of wind or waves acting on the hull. The reason for this is that the distribution of mass in the hull structure and the ballast, guns, cargo and other items loaded onto the ship add too much weight to the ship. The center of gravity is too high, so it takes very little force to capsize the ship, and there isn’t enough righting moment, the force that tries to force the ship back into an upright position.
The reason the ship has such a high center of gravity is not because of the cannons. They weighed slightly more than 60 tons or about 5% of the total displacement of the loaded ship. This is relatively light weight and should be manageable on a boat of this size. The problem is in the hull construction itself. The part of the hull above the waterline is too tall and too heavily built for the amount of hull in the water. The headroom on the decks is more than necessary for the crew members who were on average not quite 1.70 meters tall and therefore the weight of the deck and the weapons they carry is more above the waterline than necessary. In addition, the deck beams and their supporting timbers are oversized and spaced too closely together for the load they carry, thus adding too much weight to the already tall and heavy superstructure.
This ship spent 330 years submerged and there were several attempts to bring the wreckage to the surface. The ship was salvaged with a mostly intact hull in 1961. It was housed in a temporary museum called Vasavarvet (“Vasa Shipyard”) until 1988, and then moved permanently to the Vasa Museum in the Royal National City Park[ in Stockholm. The ship is one of Sweden’s most popular tourist attractions and has been seen by over 35 million visitors since 1961. Vasa became a universally recognized symbol of the Swedish Empire.
The ship was built on the orders of the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus as part of the military expansion he initiated in the war with Poland and Lithuania (1621–1629). She was constructed at the Stockholm Naval Shipyard under contract to private entrepreneurs and armed primarily with bronze cannons cast in Stockholm. Richly decorated as a symbol of the king’s ambitions for Sweden and himself, when completed she was one of the most powerfully armed vessels in the world. However, Vasa was dangerously unstable, with too much weight in the upper hull structure. Despite this lack of stability, she was ordered out to sea and sank just minutes after encountering a breeze stronger than a breeze. The order to sail was the result of a combination of factors. The king, who commanded the army in Poland at the time of her maiden voyage, was anxious to see Vasa take the place of flagship of the reserve squadron at Alvsnabben in the Stockholm Archipelago. At the same time, the king’s subordinates lacked the political courage to openly discuss the ship’s problems or to delay the maiden voyage. The Swedish Privy Council organized an investigation to find those responsible for the disaster, but in the end no one was punished.
During an investigation of the wreck in 1961, marine archaeologists found thousands of artifacts and the remains of at least 15 people in and around Vasa’s hull. Among the many items found were clothing, weapons, cannons, tools, coins, cutlery, food, drink and six out of ten sails. The artifacts and the ship itself have provided scholars with invaluable insight into the details of naval warfare, shipbuilding techniques and daily life in early 17th-century Sweden. Today, the Vasa is the best-preserved ship from the 17th century in the world and also the most visited museum in Scandinavia. The Vasa wreck is continuously being monitored and researched on how to best preserve this historical specimen.
What does Vasa look like as a wreck and what is left? The Vasa has four preserved decks: the upper and lower gun decks, the storeroom and the orlop. Due to the constraints of preparing the ship for conservation, archaeologists had to work quickly, in 13-hour shifts during the first week of excavation. The upper gun deck was heavily disturbed by various salvage projects between 1628 and 1961 and contained not only material that had fallen from the rigging and the upper deck, but more than three centuries of harbor debris.
The decks below are less and less destroyed. The decks contained not only gun carriages, three surviving cannons and other items of a military nature, but were also the places where most of the sailors’ personal belongings were placed at the time of the sinking. This included a wide variety of scattered finds, as well as crates and barrels of spare clothing and footwear, tools and repair materials, money, privately purchased groceries and all items of daily use. necessary for life at sea.
Most of the objects found are made of wood, which testifies not only to the simple life on board, but also to the generally unsophisticated state of Swedish material culture at the beginning of the 17th century. The lower decks were primarily used for storage, so the hold was filled with kegs of provisions and gunpowder, coils of anchor cable, iron shot for guns, and some officers’ personal belongings. On the orlop deck, a small compartment contained six of the ship’s ten sails, spares for rigging, and working parts for the ship’s pumps. Another compartment contained the ship’s carpenter’s belongings, including a large tool chest.
After the ship itself was salvaged and excavated, the site of the loss was thoroughly excavated during 1963–1967. This produced many pieces of rigging as well as structural timber falling off, particularly from the bill head and stern castle. Most of the sculptures that decorated the exterior of the hull were also found in the mud, along with the ship’s anchors and the skeletons of at least four people. The last item mentioned was a nearly 12 meter long boat, called an esping in Swedish, found lying parallel to the ship and believed to have been towed by Vasa when it sank.
The Vasa Museum is something you must not miss when you come to Stockholm. There are various exhibitions in the museum with different themes such as life on board and its historical context. The film about you is shown in different languages. There is also an audio guide in different languages, which visitors use on their mobile devices. The museum has free Wi-Fi internet. In addition, there is a well-stocked shop and a pleasant restaurant for lunch and fika (a wonderful and unusual Swedish custom that you must try). It is important to note that admission to the museum is free for children under 18 years of age.
My dear travellers, we have come to the end of the third special post about the legendary luxurious Swedish warship Vasa, which would not have been possible without the selfless help of the Visit Stockholm in cooperation with local partners who allowed me to feel the spirit and beauty of Swedish culture and tradition. Of course, as always, I tried my best to convey to you my impressions of this unusual experience from Sweden.
Time always flies when a person is having a good time! A person is rich in soul if he has managed to explore the world and I am glad that I always manage to find partners of my projects who help me to discover new and unusual destinations in a completely different way during this global health crisis of COVID-19.
I am honoured to have the opportunity to cooperate with companies that are the very top of the tourism industry and I would like to thank them for this incredible adventure and for allowing me to experience the beauty of this unusual city in Scandinavia in a completely different way.
How did you like my story about Royal Palace of Stockholm? Have you had the chance to visit the heart of Scandinavia so far?
If you have any question, comment, suggestion or message for me you can write me below in the comments. Of course, as always, you can contact me via email or social networks, all addresses can be found on the CONTACT ME page. See you at the same place in a few days, with some new story!
With love from Stockholm,
This post is sponsored by the Visit Stockholm, as well as other local partners. This post is my personal and honest review of the destination experience.
Dear Marko, thank you once again for sharing your experience about Sweden. Stockholm is an incredible city and there is always a lot to see and do. Vasa is one legendary warship and maybe it wasn’t prepared for the battle, but he sinked just in style. I didn’t know all these details about the accident and how they back Vasa in the ground again. Have a wonderful weekend! Ally
I like that you covered an interesting topic from Swedish history and the Swedes are otherwise very proud of you regardless of all the losses. This was a fantastic story and I look forward to your next letter from Stockholm. Greetings from Warsaw, Jakub.
Your stories from Stockholm are excellent, first you made a mini guide of what to do and see, after that you moved on to the subject of the royal family and their residence and the now famous myth about Vasa that has become famous throughout Scandinavia and the world as well. I congratulate you on your excellent storytelling and keep it up! Anthony