Vasa was the world’s most high-tech warship when it first set sail. It only navigated about 1,300 meters before sinking in front of horrified onlookers.
Vasa is a Swedish warship built between 1626 and 1628. Its rather peculiar story has gone down in history: despite being one of the Swedish navy’s biggest achievements and among the most spectacular warships ever built, Vasa sank within twenty minutes of setting sail, just 1,300 m (1,400 yd) into her maiden voyage on 10 August 1628.
“The warship survived the first blast of wind it encountered on its maiden voyage in Stockholm Harbor,” writes Lucas Laursen for Archaeology. “But the second gust did it in. The sinking of Vasa took place nowhere near an enemy. In fact, it sank in full view of a horrified public, assembled to see off their navy’s – and Europe’s – most ambitious warship to date.”
Vasa floundered because of engineering problems – but this PR disaster for the Swedish navy has become a boon for archaeologists.
Vasa was a huge, beautifully decorated ship. Constructed at the navy yard in Stockholm, she was covered in elaborate wooden carvings that told stories about the Swedish royal family, and most importantly the king, Gustav II Adolf, who ordered her construction to signal to the world the superiority of the Swedish empire.
Upon completion, Vasa was one of the most powerfully armed vessels in the world. However, she was dangerously unstable, with too much weight in the upper structure of the hull.
Despite this lack of stability, she was ordered to sea and foundered only a few minutes after encountering a wind stronger than a breeze.
Although Vasa didn’t work out well for Gustav II Adolf, it’s become a boon for archaeologists.
“The cold, oxygen-poor water of the Baltic Sea protected Vasa from the bacteria and worms that usually digest wooden wrecks,” writes Lucas Laursen for Archaeology. “Perhaps 95 percent of Vasa’s wood was intact when Sweden finally raised the wreck in 1961.”
Vasa was recovered from the sea in 1961, with thousands of artifacts and the remains of at least 15 people found in and around the ship’s hull by marine archaeologists. It is currently on display in the Vasa Museum in Stockholm.
Among the many items found were clothing, weapons, cannons, tools, coins, cutlery, food, drink and six of the ten sails.
The artifacts and the ship herself have provided scholars with invaluable insights into details of naval warfare, shipbuilding techniques and everyday life in early 17th-century Sweden.