Vasa (Swedish Navy, Ship of the Line, 1627)

Swedish ship of the line. Built at Stockholm beginning in 1626 by Henrik Hybertsson on orders of King Gustavus II Adolphus, the Vasa was launched in 1627 and intended as the largest and most elaborately decorated warship in the Swedish navy. A three-masted four-decker, she was rigged with a topsail and topgallant on her foremast, and a main and two sails only on her mizzen. She also boasted a square stern with elaborate carving and gilded figures. Approximately 156′ in length of hull, she was narrow in beam, only some 38′. Drawing approximately 16′ and displacing 1,210 tons, she mounted 64 guns: 48 × 24-pounders, 12 per side on two gun decks; 8 × 3-pounders; 2 × 1-pounders; and six mortars.

The Vasa embarked on her maiden voyage on 10 August 1628. Thousands of people lined the shores to see the ship set out for the open sea. Her normal crew complement was 445 men, including 300 soldiers, but on this occasion there were only about 100 men. Many family members were also on board for the first voyage out through the archipelago.

After she had gone less than a mile, the Vasa was caught by a gust of wind and promptly heeled over and sank. The guns had all been properly secured, but the ship was unstable, the consequence of the weight of her ordnance carried high in the ship, incorrect ballasting, excessive weight of hull (she was overbuilt with far heavier timbers than in later ships) and masts, and so many people on the main deck. Still, what did her in at this time was that her lower gun ports had been left open. The water rushed in and the ship foundered. Fortunately, nearly all aboard were rescued; fewer than 50 people lost their lives.

The Vasa righted herself as she sank and came to settle gently in 100 feet of water on the sandy bottom. Attempts to raise her were unsuccessful, although most of her guns were salvaged by means of a diving bell in 1664. In 1956 Anders Franzén located the wreck. Salvaged between 1957 and 1961, the Vasa’s hull was brought to the surface in April 1961. Well preserved by the Baltic waters and the mud, artifacts belonging to the ship, including cannon, were retrieved through 1967. Following preservation, this best example of a seventeenth-century warship rests in a permanent museum at Galärvarvet.

The Vasa Museum