Stockholm, Sweden

Friday 13th August 1999

Stockholm, Sweden

We again started the day with a stroll in to town. The metro station wasn't far from our campground but the walk along the waterfront was so enjoyable we decided to take it again. Our first task today was to return to the ferry and tourist info places to try to work out a plan for crossing to Finland. We'd spent some time last night trying to decipher the various prices and conditions in our Swedish language brochures without much luck. We thought we'd look further at the idea of island hopping through the Åland islands so our first stop was the tourist info, where the islands had a desk. After talking to them and getting prices for the direct ferry the islands looked like the best option. A fair bit cheaper, much more fun, and we avoid an eleven hour boat trip.

Armed with this info Anita and I returned to where we'd left Mum and Dad some hours earlier and decided to grab some lunch from the food stalls. The festival was still going strong so we ate our lunch whilst watching people race on the harbour with huge floating pontoons strapped to their feet. The locals were revelling in the warm summer days. I guess they make the most of the ones they get.

After lunch we wandered around the foreshore to the Djurgården area, home to a number of museums. We had our eye on the Vasa Museet, containing the recovered 17th century warship, the Vasa. On entering the museum I was literally dumbstruck. The ship is huge, over sixty metres long, and almost perfectly preserved. Apparently the water up here is not salty enough for the shipworm that usually devours the wood to survive.

The ship was built in 1628, at the height of Sweden's war with Poland. It was ordered by Gustav II Adolf to be his flagship and to represent in size, power and ornamentation, the power of the Swedish state. As such, on the King's orders, it was to have two gun decks, something never tried before in the Swedish navy. The ship was built in quick time by the royal shipyards, then the largest employer in the country, and the King, who had already left for Poland, was keen to see it in the water and on its way. A stability trial held before the launch hinted at future problems. Thirty men run in unison from one side of the deck to the other ten times. On this occasion after three crossings the ship began to heel so badly that the admiral ordered the test be stopped. Fearful of the King's wrath should the ship not sail on time they went ahead with the launch.

Much of Stockholm came to witness the maiden voyage, such a large vessel never having been seen before. With only four of her ten sails up a light breeze caught her just one hundred metres from the dock. The ship heeled dangerously but righted herself and continued on. Only another two hundred metres further on another breeze caught the sails and this time brought the ship so far over that water began to flow in through the gun ports. There was no chance this time and the ship quickly sank, taking fifty of the crew of one hundred and fifty with her. When she was finally raised they found the skeletons of women and children on board. Families of the crew members coming along for the first short stretch. She sank in just thirty metres of water and, with the main mast over fifty metres tall she was quite a hazard to shipping. Nonetheless, all attempts to salvage her failed and she lay there for three hundred years, slowly being forgotten, until found once again by a local explorer.

Upon hearing the news the King immediately ordered that the cause for the disaster be found and the guilty punished. The captain was asked if maybe his crew was drunk. "Impossible", he replied, "for we sailed on a Sunday and all the crew had been to church". Did the cannons, at over one ton each, slip from their housings? Again that was not the cause. Eventually it was determined that there was not enough ballast for such a large ship, yet it was not the fault of the ships-master, who had filled in as much as was possible. It was simply that the ship was poorly designed. With the ship-builder dying the year before the only ones left to blame were the admiral, for not recognising the risks after the stability test, and the King himself, for ordering a ship of such dimensions. Needless to say, no-one was held accountable.

As we walked around the huge vessel we were continually amazed at the remarkable state of preservation. Most of the wooden carvings remained, some in excellent condition. Almost all of the hull was preserved. Most of the damage to the decks was caused by later boats dropping anchor on top, over forty anchors were found wedged amongst the beams. It was impressive enough to see such a large wooden sailing ship but to know its age and history as well just added to the wonder.

We ended up spending quite a few hours in the museum, much more than I expected, until they closed at 7pm. We walked a little further around the island but with the sky threatening decided to take a ferry back to Gamla Stan. Once there we walked past more of the festival stalls before grabbing some take-away dinner and heading back through the old town and along the waterfront to our campsite. The sun was setting over the water as we returned and we reflected on an excellent day.

All text and images copyright David Jennings. No unauthorised copying permitted.