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The famous 17th century warship Vasa was a disastrous failure

Photo Credit: JONATHAN NACKSTRAND / AFP / Getty Images 
One of the most famous warships in Europe requires financial assistance. The vessel in need of repairs, Vasa, is among the most well-known in Sweden, having been salvaged centuries after sinking just minutes into her maiden voyage. According to curators of the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, the ship requires a new support structure.
Carvings on the hull of Vasa
17th-century Swedish warship Vasa.

Vasa was one of many ships constructed during the 1600s and, similar to other vessels of the era, was spectacularly decorated and equipped with a formidable armament, consisting of 64 guns across two gundecks. She departed for her maiden voyage on August 10, 1628, and that’s when the ship met her untimely end.

As she was leaving port, a strong gust of wind caught Vasa‘s sails, heeling her to port. While she was able to right herself, another gust pushed the vessel, which soon began to fill with water via her open gun ports. Hundreds of thousands witnessed the sinking, which resulted in the deaths of 30 crewmen.

It was later determined Vasa had sunk due to little stability, the result of a high center of gravity that, when compared to her center of buoyance, made it easy to turn the warship on her side.

Wreckage of Vasa
Wreck of the 17th-century Swedish warship Vasa, 1969. 

In the late 1950s, the wreck was rediscovered and raised. The effort took two years and was followed by Vasa being transported to a temporary facility known as Wasavarvet (“The Vasa Shipyard”), where the ship underwent restoration and was put on display.

Following a government decision that a permanent faccility be built to house Vasa, the ship was moved to the Vasa Museum, which opened to the public in 1990. Over the decades, it’s become Sweden’s most popular tourist spots, attracting 1.5 million visitors annually.

Exterior of the Vasa Museum
Vasa Museum. 

After decades of display, Vasa is now in need of costly repairs, with the museum revealing that the warship is at risk of collapse if she doesn’t receive a new internal support skeleton and a replacement support “cradle,” which will cost an estimated 150 million kroner – equivalent to just under $15.1 million USD.

Speaking with The Guardian, Project Director Magnus Olofsson explained that the damage is being caused by the cradle Vasa has been held in since 1964. The support structure is putting too much pressure on the hull, creating cracks and other damage.

“We have a lot of cracks already and we don’t want to have more. In the end, the ship would collapse,” he told the publication.

Vasa on display at the Vasa Museum
17th-century Swedish warship Vasa

Olofsson added that pollution is another factor in Vasa‘s deterioration, saying the warship absorbed pollutants while submerged, which have slowly eaten away at the wood. It’s reported that the vessel’s timbers are at only 40 percent of the normal level of oak. That’s why there’s a need for an internal skeleton, which would help protect the ship’s integrity.

“It’s a big job,” the museum’s project director told The Guardian. “We have already been researching for four years to see how we are going to do it, and then we’ve been working on construction drawings for four years and now we are beginning to build, which will also take about four years.”

Part of this research has included conducting test operations on full-scale models with the help of researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala University and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

Carvings on the stern of Vasa
17th-century Swedish warship Vasa.

The aforementioned price tag for the repairs has prompted the Vasa Museum to request support from donors, as the institution is self-funded.

“When Vasa was salvaged, the whole of Swedish society came together and made it possible to salvage the ship,” Director Jenny Lind said. “It wasn’t just the state, it was private companies, big actors in society that helped out, but also private individuals. So that’s why we’re coming out again and saying we need help again.”

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