History of an epic fail

I know I have been banging on incessantly about the efficiency and elegance of Swedish design lately. So I thought I’d give you all a break and talk about one of the biggest cock-ups in the history of naval design: the Vasa.

The Vasa museum is advertised as one of the great main attractions of the lovely city of Stockholm. It is indeed an impressive building, though its modern forms are hardly as pleasing to the eye as the majestic Renaissance castle next door to it that houses the Nordiska Museet. But the truly impressive thing about the Vasa museum lies hidden in the low-lit aircraft hanger-sized space inside the building.

The Vasa itself is a 17th century galleon, conserved in near perfect condition due to its rather original fate. Its glorious career as a royal warship lasted all of a few minutes, and it travelled the great distance of 2km out into the bay of Stockholm. It was built top-heavy, the wrong shape, and was launched with insufficient ballast. A couple of gusts of wind, some open cannon hatches, and the ship went down in front of the massed crowds and the king and his court who had all turned out to watch the launch. A most royal cock-up. If ships could blush, this one would have been fire-engine red from sheer embarrassment.

The ship sank deep into the mud, in the spot where the salt and fresh waters meet, and these exceptional conditions conserved the ship’s wood and metal structure for over 300 years, until it was raised again in the 1960’s. It is in an absolutely breathtaking state, obviously, not as good as new, but for a 383 year-old wooden structure, it is in great shape. It also has quite a particular smell, of old wood and the chemicals used to preserve it. The ornate decorations and the obvious painstaking care taken by all those who took part in building it make it (some of whom perished when it went down) all the more of a pity that all that hard work ended up being for nothing… or, at least, only for the enjoyment of a bunch of gawping tourists some 300 years later.

The Vasa and its museum are indeed a must-see when visiting Stockholm, if only to witness how a country can not only acknowledge its mistakes, but even celebrate, at great expense, one of the greatest balls-ups in the history of engineering.

There is a Titanic museum next door. They do combo tickets.

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