More Sweden – Part 2: Vasa

This morning, Helmut took me to an English church service, instead of me sitting through one in Swedish. The church we went to was called Immanuelskyrkan. The church has three different services: Swedish, Korean, and International (aka English). They used to be three or four different churches, but they joined together in the 70s and built one massive church. This church actually looks pretty neat on the inside because the sanctuary is designed to look like nature. The pews look like a field of grass, there is a golden sun hanging in the front, the organ is painted to look like the sky, it’s pretty cool!


After church, Helmut took me to the Vasamuseet, a museum dedicated to the 17th century warship. What’s so special about it? Well the ship sank less than 1 km into its maiden voyage in 1628, and it was salvaged 333 years later, and is displayed in the museum today.

As soon as we walked into the showroom, we were immediately greeted by the sheer enormity of the Vasa itself.


Here’s the story:

Early 1620s: Two Dutch entrepeneurs are hired by King Gustavus Adolphus to build a great big war ship for the current war against Poland (the Thirty Years War). At the time, the Dutch were amazing with ships, they were one of the major traders on the Indian Ocean and in the Caribbean, so hiring Dutch boat-makers seemed logical. Also, the King wanted the boat to have two gun decks, which was unprecedented.


It was impressive that this ship was able to even float because the designers didn’t speak Swedish, and the workers did not speak Dutch. The wife of one of the designers administrated the building because she spoke Ducth and Swedish. Also, the Dutch and the Swedes used different measurement systems (ie – one Dutch foot was not the same length as one Swedish foot). Also, fun fact, they imported the wood from Poland.


1628: With the measurements approved (and in some cases selected) by the king, the Vasa sets off on its maiden voyage. Ceremonial canon fire takes place, and the gun ports are left open (hint hint). A small breeze hits the ship and she begins to tip, but rights herself. Another gust of wind comes and the Vasa tips a bit farther. The gun ports begin to fill with water and the Vasa cannot balance herself.


Okay, engineering friends, get ready for some fluid mechanics (sorry): the Vasa was very top-heavy, so the centre of gravity was much higher than the centre of buoyancy, making the ship very unstable. There were rocks in the bottom of the ship to weigh it down, but not enough. Also, the ship’s dimensions were inadequate, it was too tall and too narrow (smaller surface area parallel to the water), so it was easier for it to tip.

The king was in Poland at the time and didn’t hear about the Vasa until two weeks later. Needless to say, he was furious and demanded someone be punished. It turned out that many people knew that the ship was unstable, including the captain the admiral, but no one wanted to say anything because they knew it would take a long time to fix and the king would be very angry. Are you sensing a theme?


The plan was to sail the Vasa on the first leg of her journey to Poland, hope for the best, and fix her at her first stop, where the king at least wouldn’t be angry that she was still sitting in Stockholm. They even tested the stability by having several crew member run back and forth across the ship three time. If they had run a fourth time, the Vasa would had sunk in the harbour.


The king approved all the measurements, and by the time these questions were asked, the original designer had been dead for a long time. This is going to sound cheesy, but in the end, the king’s pride sunk the ship. He wanted it to be as big and grand as possible, built as quickly as possible. He wanted everyone to see HIS ship. Well, he got his wish because the Vasamuseet has been visited by over 20 million people (which is more than the population of the world at that time). Hopefully we can learn something from this, especially me as an engineer.


One of the interesting things about the Vasa’s appearance was that it was painted. This was unusual for boats at the time. This is another way that King Gustavus Adolphus wanted to show how awesome his boat was.

Another way was the inordinate amount of sculptures on the ship. The carvers made almost 500 wood carvings for the Vasa.


The musem had some really interesting exhibits on salvaging the ship, warfare in the 1600s, the design of the ship, and the people aboard the ship. I’d highly recommend it if you’re ever in Stockholm.

After the museum, Helmut and I went back to Södertälje to get Jonas and Lisa, then headed over to Strängnäs so I could meet Jens and Lina. They had a very nice home theatre that gave me flashbacks to my co-op with Christie Digital. We went to dinner in a cozy restaurant downtown. I ordered what I believed to be a seafood platter, but turned out to be an entire pot of seafood soup. No joke, they served the pot and a separate bowl. I only ate half of it, but Jonas was more than happy to finish it off.

I was so glad to meet Jonas, Jens, and Lina, they were all so kind and welcoming to me! I had a lovely time listening to their stories of travelling and their life in Sweden.

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