In 1628, the Swedish man-o-war Vasa sank
November 3, 2002 1:06 AM   Subscribe

In 1628, the Swedish man-o-war Vasa sank to the bottom of the Baltic Sea moments into her maiden voyage. 333 years later this remarkably well-preserved ship was resurrected from her ocean grave and brought to drydock.
posted by bunnytricks (17 comments total)
Fascinating link. Thanks!
posted by Slithy_Tove at 1:24 AM on November 3, 2002

Yes bunnytricks, very interesting
posted by ajbattrick at 1:26 AM on November 3, 2002

Bunnytricks--way cool! Odd coincidence--I have been studying Dutch shipwrecks lately, while researching the maritime trade in Chinese and Japanese porcelain. There's an amazing amount of info online about the VOC, the Dutch East India Company formed around 1600. The site lists every VOC ship that wrecked during the decades they were in (a rather dangerous) business.

I wouldn't have wanted to be the Captain of the Maan who capsized near Dover while firing a salute...or consider the explanations the Captain of the Delfshaven needed to make when his ship "bursted because of carelessness in Batavia" (now Jakarta) in 1633. Even being Captain of the Reiger would be debatable since it was blown up by its own powder off Pulicat in 1654.

Explosions: Between 1613 and 1639, the blow ups seemed to be the result of fighting with the Portuguese. After that they seem to be something else, probably lighting the old meerschaum too near the powderkeg. Among others, the Purmerland in 1668 and the Rijnland in 1666 met their demise after explosions in the the gunpowderroom. Fire on board seems to be a nasty thing in any form. At least one of the crews got really pissed off and burned their ship due to its "unseaworthiness".

May 5, 1737 was truly a bad day. 8 ships were wrecked near the Salt River mouth in Table Bay (South Africa) on 21 May 1737 during a north-west gale while on a homeward-bound voyage from Batavia. (There were quite a few survivors from some of the ships.)

Read this one for a rousing story of mutiny, mayhem and murder.

I had a vague--admittedly uninformed concept--that back in the day it was a lot of battling the weather, repairing sails, fighting scurvy and drinking grog. Had no idea these ships were so decked out with dozens of cannons and spent a lot of time blasting each other to wrest control of the lucrative silk/spice/porcelain/ routes.

For the scuba-diving Indiana Jones of our time, also check the shipwreck salvage work done by Franck Goddio.

Here endeth an enthused and probably overlong post. I've just found the combination of detective work, history, art, commerce, craftsmanship, exploration and discovery tied up in the subject amazing to learn about. :-)
posted by Kato at 2:05 AM on November 3, 2002

that's the most astonishing thing i've seen in ages... great link, thank you...!
posted by t r a c y at 6:16 AM on November 3, 2002

It's an astonishing sight, if you're ever in Sweden, find the time to see for yourself.

If you are planning to visit the restored wreck of the Swedish ship, the Vasa, get your skates on - by a quirk of chemistry, the ship's timbers are producing sulphuric acid and threaten to consume themselves from within.
More here.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 6:51 AM on November 3, 2002

I really enjoyed this. Thanks.

Of possibly related interest :- the HMS Warrior's site is dedicated to a Victorian warship, includes a virtual tour, and has a page of links to the sites of other historic ships, including the Vasa but also to British and American ships, and maritime museums. Worth a browse?
posted by plep at 7:17 AM on November 3, 2002

The Vasa is widely considered one of the biggest engineering distasters in history. In fact, it's frequently used as a case study in engineering/project management classes. The truly amazing part is how much we're still learning from a 300 year old failure.
posted by dchase at 8:40 AM on November 3, 2002

bunnytricks - nice post! dchase - Ah yes, the Vasa....... Boy kings without engineering degrees should just keep their snotty little noses out of military/engineering projects. It just goes to show what happens when you send a boy to do a man's job. An extra deck! More cannon! Oy vey.

I bet there are an awful lot of contemporary analogues to this sort of thing......
posted by troutfishing at 9:40 AM on November 3, 2002

I've actually been to this museum before - it's pretty amazing - especially because we don't tend to think of the modern-day Swede as as a terrifying warrior. Though the Viking age was long over, not long after this, they crossed half of Europe to sack Prague in the Thirty Year's War - carrying off Emperor Rudolf's collection of Arcimboldos. They've still got them, and ain't giving them back.
posted by charlesv at 12:56 PM on November 3, 2002

I saw the Vasa a couple years ago, and it was one of the highlights of a great trip. It's an amazing museum, doubly so because it's a well-done memorial to incredible failure--followed by the amazing modern success story of bringing the ship back up and preserving it. (Of course, as soundofsuburbia notes, the Vasa is currently busy eating itself, so the cycle of failure and success isn't quite over yet...)
posted by Inkslinger at 1:34 PM on November 3, 2002

charlesv: Yeah, and "we" also took The Devil's Bible. Bad form. Click here for a map of Sweden in the 17th century. (In swedish, sorry.)
posted by soundofsuburbia at 1:43 PM on November 3, 2002

we don't tend to think of the modern-day Swede as as a terrifying warrior

Bahh, the Swedes have always been wimps. Can't even build a ship that floats!

*ducks* I'm Danish, sorry ;)
posted by dchase at 1:55 PM on November 3, 2002

trout, do you ever change the subject?

In any case, there are certainly lessons to be learned. The investigation was fruitless -- no one was found guilty, probably partly because it was obvious that the royal interference had put the responsible parties in an impossible position, and partly because many key errors were made by a man now dead. Transparency, accountability, and decentralization are obvious things to keep in mind. Gustavus Adolphus was certainly no naval architect, but as a military leader he remains one of Sweden's most important historical figures, reforming the Swedish military to greater mobility with brigades and light artillery (compare proposals for American military reform; this is a constant process), and successfully prosecuting wars with Denmark, Poland, Russia, and the Holy Roman Empire -- which is no mean feat, especially considering the latter effectively ceased to exist after the Peace of Westphalia. The details of the project show that the death of the shipbuilder, and his replacement by an inexperienced assistant, were key to the failure, as well as tests performed by the navy without the shipbuilders present and before the full complement of weapons was aboard. The King, of course, knew of none of this; he was at war on the Continent at the time (where he was later killed in battle). In the end, it was probably his neglect rather than his interference on which the disaster can be laid.

A little-known side note is that the recovery of the Vasa's guns was accomplished in the next century by an early use of a diving bell.
posted by dhartung at 2:16 PM on November 3, 2002

dchase: Oh yeah?! *remembers the naval frigate Birger Jarl* Eh... I suppose you're right.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 2:19 PM on November 3, 2002

wonderful & fascinating bunnytricks, thanks!
posted by madamjujujive at 7:04 PM on November 3, 2002

Dhartung - rubbed you the wrong way, huh? I knew about the military prowess of Gustavus Adolphus. It was just a snide post. I didn't really think the dead would care though...but I do think the question of "nonspecialist interference" is significant. The solutions (protocols) you mention go a long way to addresing the problem, although they are often ignored.
posted by troutfishing at 8:41 PM on November 3, 2002

the vasa acted a significant role in one of the most notorious student pranks ever made in finland. a night before the ship was lifted up in 24 april 1961 3 students from helsinki polytechnic dove to the sunken ship and placed a statue of paavo nurmi, a legendary finnish athlete on the deck - just to annoy the swedes. the complete story is to be found here (sorry folks, it is in finnish only....)
posted by inkeri at 7:52 AM on November 4, 2002

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