By Mary Dodge Allen
Last month I described the doomed maiden voyage of the Vasa. It sank soon after it was launched on August 10, 1628. This warship was one of the most magnificent of its time - with two separate gun decks carrying a total of 64 brass cannons. Its hull was adorned with painted and gilded hand-carved images depicting Swedish history and mythology.
And yet, the Vasa sank less than twenty minutes after its launch. Why?
Swedish King Gustav II Adolf made many changes to the original warship design. He issued orders to increase the warship’s length, construct an unprecedented second gun deck, and place elaborate wooden carvings on the warship’s hull.
Unfortunately, these changes made the Vasa unstable and top-heavy. When a strong gust of wind filled its sails, the warship leaned far over to port, took on water and quickly sank. To add to the tragedy, officials had allowed the crew to take family members as guests on the first part of the Vasa’s maiden voyage. It is estimated that approximately 50 crew and family members died. The rest of the crew and guests were rescued. To read Part One of my blog... the details of the Vasa's construction and tragic launch, click on this link: https://www.hhhistory.com/2023/05/the-swedish-warship-vasa-part-one-its.html
When was the Vasa found... and resurrected?
The warship sat at the bottom of Stockholm harbor, untouched and well-preserved by the darkness and low salinity of the frigid water... until...
September 1956, when shipwreck-hunter Anders Franzen confirmed that he had finally found the Vasa, and that the ship was amazingly intact.
Anders Franzen put together a team of experts to work on raising the Vasa. The Swedish Navy assigned Commodore Edward Clason to run the project, and Edvin Falting was chosen to supervise the dive team. Franzen arranged for Bostroms, the largest marine salvage company in Scandinavia, to conduct the lift, working with Neptune Diving and Salvage Company.
From 1957 to 1959, six tunnels were dug under the Vasa by navy divers. Huge steel cables were pulled through these tunnels and attached to two floating pontoons, named Oden and Frigg. The plan was to fill the pontoons with water, tighten the cables under the Vasa, and then drain the water from the pontoons. In this way, the Vasa could be lifted free of the muddy bottom, as if cradled in a basket made by the cables.
During the two-years of tunnel digging, divers found many artifacts, including elaborate wooden carvings that had fallen off the hull, and even a brass cannon, which was lifted from the water in September 1958.
After the Vasa was lifted, it was moved to its own pontoon dockage. Over the next several years, archaeologists and conservators worked on the huge task of removing the remainder of the mud, debris and artifacts. Divers continued recovering hundreds of loose pieces from its decks and hull, while plans were made to house and display the Vasa in its own museum.
The Vasa had been well-preserved underwater, due to the cold, the lack of salinity in Stockholm harbor, and protection from ultraviolet light on the dark sea bottom. To keep the ship's hull from shrinking and cracking now that it was out of the water, conservators sprayed polyethylene glycol – a waxy substance - on all of its wooden surfaces.
The Vasa Museum Opens:
The Vasa Museum opened to the public in June 1990. It is located in Stockholm, on the island of Djurgarden. In June 2001, I visited this museum with my family. The warship itself is magnificent, and many fascinating artifacts and scale models are displayed throughout the museum. It is well worth a visit.
Link to Mary's Spotlight Interview: Mary Dodge Allen Author Spotlight EA Books