Every time that I am in Stockholm I make an effort to visit the Vasa Museum. I must have visited it four or five times in the last decade and every time I visit it I am struck by the sheer scope of it. While the Vasa is undoubtedly one of the most important and best preserved ships in existence, it is the thirty year restoration process that inspires me every time.
The history of the Vasa is similar to the history of any project where people in positions of power try to improve or get involved without having any real knowledge of the project and ended up the same way. Built in 1626, the Vasa was commissioned to be part of King Gustav Adolphus’ fleet to lead Sweden in her war with Poland-Lithuania. Designed to be one of the most powerful armed vessels in the world at that period, the Vasa was richly decorated and displayed the history of pride of Sweden. Unfortunately due to the King’s involvement and constant design changes that went against his shipwrights’ original plans, the Vasa was dangerously unstable due to insufficient ballast compared to deck weight and the Vasa sunk a few minutes after it left the naval shipyards at Skeppsgården in Stockholm.
While national blunders like this are not uncommon, what distinguishes the Vasa from the rest is that 333 years later the Vasa rose again from the bottom of the Stockholm bay. While this sounds simple enough, the process was incredibly complicated and took almost thirty years of restoration before it could be opened to the public.
While the silt and water of Stockholms ström preserved the wood and prevented shipworm from infesting the wood, if the Vasa’s wood were to dry out once it resurfaced it would crack and be destroyed. In order to counter this, the Vasa was sprayed with polyethylene glycol for 17 years that seeped into the wood and replaced the water as the ship slowly dried out. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for people working on the project knowing that the spraying would last almost two decades before it would be ready to go on display.
The Vasa Museet itself has gone through some fantastic upgrades recently including new viewing platforms that have been added so that now you can get a virtual 360 degree view of the ship as well as fantastic new displays that have been added to allow visitors to get an even better understanding of the of history and tragedy of the Vasa. The museum has added a display about the sailors who lost their lives in the tragedy and gives a fascinating insight into their lives through their personal effects and other artefacts, as well as a reconstruction of one of the original Vasa canon.