Wednesday, 4 September 2013

That sinking feeling

If Twitter had been around in 1628, the hashtag #fail would have featured heavily on 10 August when the Swedish warship Vasa set sail on its maiden voyage... only to sink less than two kilometres from shore.

The highly decorated timber ship lay at the bottom of Stockholm's harbour for more than three centuries until it was discovered largely intact in the late 1950s and salvaged.

Today, the entire Vasa ship stands tall (on solid ground) in a dedicated, climate-controlled museum in Stockholm that is completely dedicated to the most stunning failures of Swedish maritime history.

Like many of today's Hollywood stars, Vasa was made too top-heavy, which meant anything more than a breeze toppled it over.  Not the best feature for a warship destined for battles at sea.

My friend and I stumbled across Vasa by accident while "killing some time" in Stockholm.

On paper the Vasa Museum sounds like just another nautical museum (and we both aren't really seafaring folk).  But in reality, the Vasa Museum is one of the best museums I have ever been to.

Because it sank just after its launch and lay undisturbed at the bottom of the harbour, it is not only a fascinating relic but a time capsule.

Since being raised to the surface, the ship has been preserved and you're able to walk around it on several levels, peering inside, over and under the big ship.

Thousands of artifacts found inside Vasa, including clothing, weapons, tools and trunks, have been recovered and are on show.  They shine a light on everyday life at the time.

About 30 people are believed to have died when Vasa sank and the remains of about 16 bodies have been uncovered and analysed, revealing fascinating facts about who they were, their diet and their health - almost 400 years after their death.

As a monument to Sweden's naval power, Vasa was adorned with painted wooden carvings.  While the paint has faded, the sculptures themselves are remarkably intact.

Apparently Vasa's instability was pretty obvious even when the ship was in port.  But no one wanted to bring this to the attention of impatient King and so the structural problems were never addressed and the launch proceeded as planned.

On 10 August 1628, thousands of Stockholm residents lined the shore waiting to watch the ship's maiden voyage.

About 150 people were on board, including more than 100 crew, many of whom had also brought their wives and children on board for the first part of the journey.

But just minutes into the voyage, the unstable ship began to roll, allowing water to rush in through the gunports.

Despite taking about two years to build, Vasa took only minutes to sink.

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