A New Home for the Wasa
Julie Richards-Williams on the salvaging of a 17th-century Swedish warship.
Work has now begun in Stockholm on a spectacular new £16 million museum building to house the Wasa – the world's oldest identified, raised and restored warship, which sank on her maiden voyage. When completed by the summer of 1990, it will for the first time be possible to see the warship both close up and at a distance in surroundings eminently suitable for the unlucky pride of Sweden's seventeenth-century navy, visited every year by more than half a million people from all over the world.
Built on the orders of Gustavus Adolphus prior to Sweden's involvement in the Thirty Years War, on August 10th, 1628, she was ready to join the fleet. An artistic treasure house embellished with 700 wood sculptures, sixty-two metres long, constructed principally from specially selected oak, three masted with a tall aftercastle and four decks, her mainmast towered fifty-two metres above the keel and she had a displacement of approximately 1,300 tons. Her armament consisted of sixty-four bronze cannons and her ten sails amounted to 13,000 square feet of canvas. The poop was the most splendid part of the ship, gleaming in Gold leaf and brilliant colours.
Whilst still in the shelter of the harbour, before the eyes of a large and admiring crowd, a powerful gust of wind caught her sails, water gushed into the open ports and she sank swiftly in 110 feet of water, apparently the victim of too little ballast for her unusual size and weight.
The Wasa had been due to carry a crew of 135 plus 300 soldiers, as well as women and children, but it is believed the soldiers had not yet embarked. During diving and excavations, the bones of eighteen men, women and children were found.