Musings of a Dinosaur

A Family Doctor in solo private practice; I may be going the way of the dinosaur, but I'm not dead yet.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

One of the Biggest "Oh, Shits!" in Maritime History: The Vasa

The time: 1628
The place: Stockholm shipyard
The event: the launching of the magnificent warship, the Vasa, commissioned by King Gustavus Adolphus

Majestically it begins its maiden voyage, all sails deployed, flags flying proudly! The shore is packed with spectators, including the curious, the well-wishers, and the foreign dignitaries there to pay homage to the great and mighty Vasa, the greatest and mighiest warship of the great and mighty Gustavus Adolphus.

Meanwhile, back on shore:
Whiny little assistant to the Chief Designer in charge of the Vasa: Sir, Accounting needs you to sign off on these invoices for the final material delivery for the Vasa.

Chief Designer (peering over the sheaves of paper): Hmm, let's see: that looks like the right amount of timber for the masts and decking. The bill for the sails looks right. Wait a minute; how much ballast was put in?

WLATTCD: It says so right there, sir. What's the matter?

CD: It's missing a zero.

WLATTCD: So what? A zero is nothing, isn't it?

CD: No, you idiot. It's missing a zero at the end.

WLATTCD: What does that mean?

CD: It means the ship may not have enough ballast.

WLATTCD: So? What's the worst that can happen?

CD: What's the worst that can happen? If there's not enough weight in the bottom of the hull to balance the weight of the ship, the masts, sails, rigging, provisions, the sixty-four cannon with all their ammunition, and everything else, it can tip over in the slightest wind, letting water pour in through the gunports. It could even sink!
Meanwhile, back on shore:
The ship starts to heel over, water pours in through the open gunports and:

the whole thing sinks in over 100 feet of water, all sails rigged, flags flying proudly.

Here is a depiction of the general reaction to the event*:

Fast forward to 1961, when the Swedes spend another shitload of money to raise the thing, preserve it, put it into a building shaped like a ship:

and call it the Vasamuseet.

Actually, it's pretty cool. The central hall is dominated by the actual ship, surrounded by exhibits about the disaster itself:

life aboard the ship (dominated by the military; the crew consisted of 164 sailors and 300 soldiers),

the artwork (hundreds of carvings originally painted in brilliant colors),

and the restoration (including fascinating reconstructions from the bones of some of the 30 people who died when the ship went down).

So, to recap the history of the Vasa:
  • Two years to build the thing
  • Five minutes of sailing
  • Submerged in over 100 feet of water for 333 years
  • Raised to the surface and painstakingly restored over 17 years
  • Enjoyed today by Dino and Darling Spouse
And that's the way it was.

* Actually, that's a reconstruction of the carving inside the gunports, visible to the outside when said gunports are open for business.


At Wed Dec 16, 09:00:00 AM, Anonymous Val said...

Thoroughly enjoying your travelog, #1. I hate to bug you when you're so obviously having a good time, but do write more when the mood is on you.

At Wed Dec 16, 09:40:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Math matters!

Decimal points and units are important!

At Wed Dec 16, 03:17:00 PM, Blogger Kays said...

I went to see the Vasa when I was 13, it was amazing, and horrific at the same time. It definitely left and impression on me.

At Mon Jan 04, 06:35:00 AM, Anonymous Term papers said...

I went to see the Vasa when I was 15, it was amazing, and horrific at the same time.Great blog by the way.


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