The 10th of August 1628 was a big day for both Stockholm and the Swedish navy. It was the day of the maiden voyage for the new mighty warship Vasa. As it turned out, the ship proved to be one of Sweden’s biggest engineering failures ever. From that day onwards the ship spent 333 years on the seafloor before becoming one of Stockholm’s biggest tourist attractions. After a large salvation project, the final result was what is today the Vasa Museum.
Vasa – The Ship
The Lion from the North, the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus (Gustav II Adolf), commissioned the ship Vasa was commissioned in 1625. Vasa was one of four ships to be built by the Dutch shipbuilder Henrik Hybertsson. Henrik Hybertsson died prior to the launching of the ship he had made.
The ship was eventually 69 meters long and it was 50 meters from keel to the top of the mast. It had 10 sails and was decorated with several hundred sculptures. It was, however, the canons that were meant to make it into one of the worlds most powerful ships. Vasa was equipped with 64 canons, 48 of which were 24 pounders. These cannons could fire cannonballs of around 10 kilograms each.
Vasa – A Short Journey to Disaster
If Vasa would have been a modern car, the distance on the dashboard would eventually have been around 1300 meters. That is how far the ship was able to sail.
The 10th of August 1628 Vasa finally left the dock. The wharf was crowded with spectators and several smaller vessels were out on the water. The crew had been allowed to bring with them wives and children for the first part of the journey. After the raising of 4 of the sails, the ship sailed for only 15 minutes before the disaster. Gusts got the ship to list and water was flowing in through the many open cannon slots.
Luckily for most of the crew and their families, the masts were still above the water, there were several vessels that picked them up and the land was only 120 meters away. Around 30 people perished with the ship as they were unable to leave the ship.
Investigations into the sinking of Vasa has found several reasons for the disaster. The part of the hull that was under the water surface was too light and small in comparison with the part of the ship above. Heavy masts, a lot of cannons and reinforced gundecks caused the ship to be top heavy. The final nail in the coffin was the decision to keep the cannon slots open, meaning that all possibilities to get the ship back to dock was gone.
The Salvage and the Vasa Museum
The private scientist Anders Franzén rediscovered Vasa in 1956 after around a year of searching in the waters outside of Stockholm. The ship’s location has been known and forgotten several times in history, but this time it meant something more. It was the start of one of the largest salvage operations in Swedish history. The interest in the ship was massive and there was no obvious way to lift the ship from the depth of 32 meters.
The ship was moved in several steps ant the first lift began in August 1959. A month later Vasa had been moved to a depth of 17 meters. The preparations were now underway to lift the ship from the sea floor. During a year and a half, the repairs and cleanings were carried out.
333 years after it sank Vasa once more came up above the water surface on the 24th of April 1961. This was also when the archeologists took over and went through the ship for artifacts. In total over 30.000 items were found.
A temporary exhibition of ship opened in late 1961. Already in 1962 over 400.000 tickets had been sold. The current Vasa Museum was built on Djurgården and it was opened in 1990. Up to 2015, the Vasa Museum had had more than 35 million visitors.
Our Visit and Recommendations
I visited the Vasa museum this week together with a co-worker who was visiting Stockholm for the first time. It really is a perfect museum to bring your visitors to and it is highly recommended to see if you visit Stockholm. I had forgotten how impressive the ship actually is. It is probably 15-20 years since my last visit. It was a school trip when we were just small kids and did probably not really understand what we saw.
I can only assume that the museum can get quite crowded and it might be good to look for less busy times for your visit. A big crowd can make it hard to really see the immense size of the ship. Our visit was during a weekday at low season. That probably made it easier for us to really see everything.
In regards to time, we didn’t stop to read up on everything. Even without that, it took around two hours to see as much as possible. This is a museum that you will have to give some time to really understand. There is a lot of information and it is not only the ship to see. There are also hundreds of additional artifacts.
We can also recommend you to check their homepage for opening hours, prizes as well as to read up a bit more about the history.