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20 May 2017 / leggypeggy

The Vasa surfaces after 300+ years

Model of the Vasa

A 1:10 model of the Vasa as she looked when first built

You might not have noticed, but we slipped away from France to visit Finland and Sweden for 12 days. It’s been a great detour and I have lots of stories to share, especially about Finland where we spent most of the time.

But first a couple of posts about Sweden and some highlights of its capital, Stockholm, in particular.

Poor John had the Vasa Museum at the top of his must-see list. It’s home to the 64-gun warship Vasa that sank in the Stockholm Harbour in August 1628 on her maiden voyage. It’s the only almost fully intact 17th century ship that has ever been salvaged.

The museum opened in 1990, and according to its website, it is the most visited museum in all of Scandinavia. It’s easy to see why.

Vasa ship

The Vasa sank in 1628 on her maiden voyage

Model of the Vasa being built

We paid our admission and walked into the main hall to be instantly overwhelmed by an entire ship that was lifted from the sea after being under water for 300+ years.

How she came to be in the museum is a wonderful story.

In the 1920s, a group of divers applied for a permit to find the wreck and blow it up so they could salvage the valuable black oak timbers. That didn’t happen and in the 1950s, a private researcher, Anders Franzén, began to search for the Vasa. He was confident that she had survived in the brackish waters of the Baltic Sea. In salty water, wood is rapidly destroyed by shipworms.

Franzén found her by chance in 1956. For a couple of years, he had avoided searching an underwater mound because he’d been told that’s where great piles of stones had been dumped years earlier. When he learned the stones had been dumped elsewhere, he and Navy diver, Per Edvin Fälting, immediately rowed out to the mound. A sampler brought up pieces of black oak. Fälting then dived down and found the ship’s hulk and cannon ports.

Vasa stern

The Vasa’s stern

Vasa bow

The Vasa’s bow

It took almost two years and amazing engineering feats to raise the 700-ton ship, but she was brought up in one piece in 1959. This was done by digging six tunnels under her and then threading through six-inch cables that were used to gently lift her from the mud and sludge. After another two years, she was shifted into dry dock, having been put afloat after 333 years. In all, the Vasa was allowed to dry for nine years, with about 500 tonnes of water evaporating away.

cross section of the Vasa

A cross-section model shows how little ballast was at the bottom of the Vasa

So why did she sink in the harbour on her maiden voyage?

To make a very long story short, she quite simply was built with the wrong proportions. Too long, tall and skinny to carry enough ballast to keep her upright. She need a deeper and wider hull. It took only a light squall to send her over and down.

When she sank, the Vasa had a crew of 445—with 145 mariners and 300 soldiers. It’s estimated that 30–50 died when the ship went down. It was interesting to see displays of how they might have dressed and see possessions that have been retrieved from the deep.

The museum has excellent descriptions—in Finnish, Swedish and English—of the ship’s history, including how she was built, decorated and, ultimately, renovated and repaired.

Her hull is comprised of thousands of timbers, held together by about 30,000 original treenails and 5500 steel bolts inserted after she was salvaged. Some these bolts are 2 meters long and go through the massive hull. These bolts are rusting and are being replaced by stainless steel equivalents.

A quick comment about the ship’s sculptures and carved ornaments. There are 500 of them and historians did their best to match the original colour schemes. Research on colours was conducted over 12 years and involved more than 1000 pigment samples (see the pic of the final colours used).

The sculptures were a tribute to the king, Gustav II Adolf. They were also a reminder to the people to live up to the king’s virtues of piety, courage and wisdom. One of the largest is the shield with three crowns, which has been part of the Swedish coat-of-arms since the 14th century.

Also, there is a 1:10 model of the ship, which depicts the Vasa when newly built and with all 10 sails set. The model measures 6.93 metres long and 4.75 metres tall.

Stern of Vasa with shield and three crowns

Shield with three crowns

Vasa sculptures including shield with three crowns

Sculptures including shield with three crowns


Leave a Comment
  1. magarisa / May 20 2017 6:39 am

    Wow, how amazing that a 300+ year old ship was lifted out of the sea in one piece!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. neveradullbling / May 20 2017 6:52 am

    I find the details and carvings on the ship amazing. Such a lost art.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 20 2017 1:37 pm

      A lost art indeed, and so amazing that so many of the carvings survived underwater for all those years.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. beetleypete / May 20 2017 6:53 am

    I have never been to Sweden or Finland, so I am envious. I did see a film report about this ship though, and it was a great project.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 20 2017 1:37 pm

      Thanks Pete. It took a couple of hours for us to see it all, including a short film.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Dorothy / May 20 2017 7:07 am

    Fascinating ship. I wonder if the original shipbuilders would have wanted it to stay under the sea rather than display the design faults which made it sink? Beautiful ship all the same, pity it was not seaworthy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 20 2017 1:40 pm

      In the end, the blame was laid on no one. The two guiltiest parties were the master shipbuilder who didn’t understand the proportions needed (no one did because this was new shipbuilding territory) and the king, who pressed for this design.


  5. Alison and Don / May 20 2017 7:28 am

    Great post Peggy. We loved the Vasa. Researching before our first visit to Stockholm we read about it and thought – oh just some old boat, maybe we’ll spend a half hour there. We were there for three hours! It was fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 20 2017 1:42 pm

      Thanks. Poor John does his homework (in overload) and assured me well ahead of time that the Vasa was not ‘just some old boat’! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  6. bibseyb / May 20 2017 7:38 am

    How wonderful that you are sharing this with us. Brian and I visited the Vasa, and also the Fram and the Kon Tiki. These places are so memorable and were so special. After reading and learning about Viking expeditions, these are a must see. I could just imagine Kirk Douglas as Ragnar on the Vasa jumping across the oars.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / May 20 2017 1:43 pm

      Perhaps we’ll see the movie one day. I wonder who the star would be now?


  7. trE / May 20 2017 8:25 am

    These are amazing pictures. I’d be standing in awe. Did your jaw drop?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. wfdec / May 20 2017 8:32 am

    Thanks once more for the post. I know there is so much you see but you always choose such wonders to highlight.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 20 2017 1:43 pm

      I try to choose topics I think people will enjoy or that they know nothing about (like me)!


  9. kunstkitchen / May 20 2017 8:51 am

    What fun! I had read about this ship, but your photos bring it to life. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 20 2017 1:45 pm

      My pleasure. We spent hours there enjoying all the displays and commentary.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. gerard oosterman / May 20 2017 9:13 am

    A great work of retrieval and now for the world to admire. I was in Stockholm around 1965/66 and I suppose the boat was still being worked on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 20 2017 1:47 pm

      It’s a remarkable story of salvage. Back when you were in Stockholm, they’ve would have just been getting going on the restorations.


  11. Vicki / May 20 2017 11:09 am

    Fascinating and astonishing detail.
    It would be high on my must-see list if I was visiting the country too.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. forwardtogloryquartet / May 20 2017 11:23 am

    A grand museum indeed. The Swedes are so modest, but the vanity of kings ‘trumped’ everything in this case! I recall that they had to keep the timbers wet for years, to ‘ween’ them back to dryness w/o rotting. And I presume you did Skansen while in the neighbourhood. I know that Scan’s not perfect, but they’re pretty damn close!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 20 2017 1:51 pm

      You nailed it Brian—the vanity of kings. Sadly, we didn’t have time to do the Skansen, but we owe Sweden another visit or two or three. 🙂 Plus it was bloody freezing when we were there.


  13. calmkate / May 20 2017 11:37 am

    Great story and photos as usual Peggy!
    Could this be a similar fault with our current billion dollar warship that doesn’t work? lol They do claim it’s design problems … think we might have learnt over a few centuries ..

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Chris Riley / May 20 2017 12:08 pm

    Amazing that more than 60 years ago we had the technology to be able to re-float the ship in one piece. Even more amazing that she survived to be re-floated. I love museums that portray past times. Interesting reading. You must be having an amazing time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 20 2017 1:54 pm

      The technology and thought that went into raising this boat were amazing. They built multiple tunnels under her as part of the engineering. I took pictures of the models, but they were way to fuzzy to really tell the story.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. blondieaka / May 20 2017 1:00 pm

    Absolutely fascinating and to be raised in one piece. A very interesting read 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 20 2017 1:52 pm

      The raising in one piece is most incredible, especially when you see how big it really is.


  16. chape / May 20 2017 5:11 pm

    Great post and gorgeous museum! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Andrew Petcher / May 20 2017 5:56 pm

    What a great museum, I always think it such a shame that a ship sinks on its maiden voyage. All that time and effort gone in a few minutes!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 20 2017 6:54 pm

      Yes, a complete waste—and the lives lost too.


      • Andrew Petcher / May 20 2017 7:15 pm

        Rather like Apollo 1 and Space Shuttle Challenger!

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / May 20 2017 7:16 pm

        Yes, these things happen in current times. 😦


  18. spearfruit / May 20 2017 7:45 pm

    Amazing history and museum. I need to get out more! Thank you Peggy for sharing, I truly enjoy these posts. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 21 2017 1:38 am

      Aw Terry, you don’t have to get out so much. Just hang around with me! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  19. pvcann / May 20 2017 7:56 pm

    Loved reading this, thank you, a rich story brought to life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 21 2017 1:39 am

      You are most welcome. So glad you enjoyed it.


  20. jeanleesworld / May 20 2017 8:53 pm

    Wow…just, wow. I saw that first picture, and thought immediately of the model windjammer my grandfather built of metal scrap. I’m glad Poor Jon wanted to see this. What a find, what, a, find. And your pictures have such wonderful light in them! I can see the details of all the carvings. Thank you so much for sharing this, I…wow. As I’ve told Bo, when the kids are older, we are GOING to Europe. (Whether we take them along is up for debate, but we are definitely going. 🙂 xxxxxxxxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 21 2017 1:42 am

      I hope someone in your family still has your grandfather’s model windjammer. The museum is stunning. While I’d like to claim that the good lighting is my own doing, the curators have done their job well. 🙂

      Maybe when your kids are older—much older—you could lure Poor John and me to come teenage-sit while you go to Europe.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jeanleesworld / May 21 2017 5:26 am

        I’ll hold you to that baby-sitting! 🙂
        I’ve been summoning courage to write what I’d call the “Graveyard Run” series: a set of essays on the grandparents and parents who’ve passed. Grandpa’s windjammer will be photographed for that post; for now it sits proudly atop the cupboards in my kitchen. We almost lost it, actually–when my grandfather died Dad took it to his office in pieces until he could work out where to put it. But then Dad died just two years later. Neither of Dad’s brothers wanted it, so Mom was going to donate it. I spoke up, knowing one of Bo’s best friends was an avid model-maker, and felt certain he could rebuild it. Sure enough, he did, with me tearing up next to him, which must have seemed a bit melodramatic, but he was nice about it anyway. 🙂
        I’ll try to remember to send you a photo sometime! xxxxx

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / May 21 2017 5:33 am

        You’ve put my mind at rest just knowing the windjammer is still around. Even better, it’s been fixed and it’s with you! Woo-hoo!

        Oh, and I said teenage-sitting which, I suppose, could be worse. 🙂


  21. Brenda / May 20 2017 9:27 pm

    We had an amazing trip to Sweden some years ago, during brilliant September weather. The Vasa museum was one of the highlights. It is such an improbable story–capsizing on the maiden voyage, and then being resurrected for our pleasure! You captured it well. It is a shame that you didn’t make it to Skansen, too. We thoroughly enjoyed it. Can’t wait to hear about your Finnish exploits.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 21 2017 1:45 am

      Good weather makes a huge difference. I think we were in Sweden for the coldest May days ever, which is part of the reason we missed Skansen. I think the daytime temperature was 6°C and we hadn’t really packed for that. I felt really sorry for the woman I saw wearing thongs (flip flops).


      • Brenda / May 21 2017 6:37 am

        Ha. I thought you wore thongs everywhere. Perhaps you need to acclimatize your feet! When I lived in Alaska, there were folks who wore thongs (and shorts) even when there was snow on the ground. If there was a little sun, time to expose the skin!

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / May 21 2017 2:23 pm

        Good one, Brenda, but I draw the line at thongs when the temp is under 15°C.


  22. Curt Mekemson / May 21 2017 5:13 am

    Smiled at the chubby little cherubs with their heart shaped pot bellies. Can you imagine finding a treasure like the ship? –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  23. IreneDesign2011 / May 21 2017 5:20 am

    Beautiful post Peggy and this looks like a great museum to visit 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Sharon Bonin-Pratt / May 21 2017 9:31 am

    This was a fascinating photo essay – thank you for “taking” us to see Vasa – beautiful ship with a sad history.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Perry & Don / May 21 2017 10:35 am

    Hi Peggy

    Was delighted to see your post on the Vasa. When we saw the Vasa 46 years ago there was not very much of the ship itself but it was being sprayed every 20 minutes. It is wonderful to see her now in all her glory.

    Many thanks, love your posts.. Cheers Perry

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 21 2017 2:19 pm

      Cheers to you too! How amazing that you saw the Vasa all those years ago. I read that the restoration process took something like 17 years of almost constant attention.


  26. dave ply / May 21 2017 2:48 pm

    I saw the Vasa in 1980. I’m not sure where, I’d assume they just expanded on the building it was in to build the museum you saw. Whatever the case it’s an amazing work of art, if not such a great sailing vessel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 21 2017 9:19 pm

      I think it moved into the current purpose-built museum in the late 1980s. And yes, it wasn’t a great sailing vessel.

      Liked by 1 person

  27. Green Global Trek / May 21 2017 6:47 pm

    This was pretty fascinating. Stuff I know so little about. Thanks for the education.


    Liked by 1 person

  28. Forestwoodfolkart / May 21 2017 10:35 pm

    I am happy to read your post, Peggy. My photos from inside all turned out blurry. I didn’t have a camera that worked well in low light. If only they didn’t put the double deck of cannons on, and Vasa would have had a chance to sail successfully, but as others have commented, the vanity of the King doomed this glorious ship, and to think he was watching when it sunk!!! Imagine the furore!

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Forestwoodfolkart / May 21 2017 10:38 pm

    Oh I just re-read my post and saw that Vasa had triple decks, not double…. even more vanity than I remembered from the Swedish king, it seems!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 21 2017 11:23 pm

      Vanity in spades. And he’ll never know that we’re looking at it now!

      Liked by 1 person

  30. Neethu / May 23 2017 9:49 pm

    I immensely enjoyed reading about the ship’s history and how it resurfaced…Simply wow….😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 24 2017 5:15 am

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. The resurfacing was a remarkable achievement. I’m pleased that we saw the real thing and that I was able to share it here.


  31. adventuredawgs / May 24 2017 1:40 pm

    That is amazing! From the history of the shipwreck to the stunning photos. Wow.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Kenny2dogs / May 30 2017 6:56 am

    Ahhh yes , beautiful little Stockholm, I know her well and she knows me !!! The Finnish are a odd lot, too much Russian Vodka me thinks !!! “WEDNESDAY” ? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Tamara Hoerner / Jun 6 2017 10:40 pm

    You have definitely peaked my interest with Sweden, but especially Finland. If someone wanted to visit Finland, what one spot would you recommend visiting?

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jun 7 2017 7:44 pm

      Obviously Helsinki is a logical choice because it is the capital and has lots to do and see. If you go in winter, I suggest you head north to see the aurora (northern lights).

      Liked by 1 person

  34. amaranto es / Sep 26 2017 1:25 am

    Sounds safe 👌 I’m so beaming you enjoyed the Charles William Post.

    Liked by 1 person

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