As a child, we have all been told stories about sunken ships and treasure.It’s something that has captivated us, maybe because of the visuals we imagine of Blackbeard the pirate and mountains of gold recovered from the shoals of a warm caribbean sea. Whatever your affections are regarding ancient sea travel, you will love the photos of a fully recovered 350 year old pirate ship from Sweden called the Vasa.
In 1626, 400 skilled boat craftsmen began building an impressive vessel at the royal shipyard in Stockholm Sweden. By the time the craft was finished in 1628, The Vasa was Sweden’s premiere warship, 64 cannons and measuring over 180 feet in length. For that era, she was the most powerful warship in the world.
The Vasa looked the part; svelte, beautifully decorated and armed to the teeth. 1000 people came out the day she set sail but their joy was short-lived as the ship, which was more decoration than function, sank just a few football fields after its departure.
Over 30 crewmen died that day and when the king finally received the news, he demanded justice for the people who were responsible for the failure. In reality, the King was the one at fault for it was he who demanded that the ship be put to sea as soon as possible. The king’s Crews and workers were too scared to discuss the ship’s structural problems with him and they moved forward knowing the vessel was not ready.
The ship was left to rest where she sunk after they salvaged her prized Bronze cannons. For 335 years, she sat in the cold silt of the bay until she was rediscovered and raised, almost fully intact in 1961.
Recovery of the Vasa in 1961. Photo:Wired
Once the ship was raised and exposed to air for the first time in almost three and a half decades, chemical reactions produced acidic compounds to react that began slowly eating away at the ship from the inside out.
The issue was the pollutants in the bay where the ship sunk were what preserved it underwater but were also responsible for the rapid decay once she was raised. The Vasa’s wooden hull contained huge amounts of sulphuric acid (more than 2 tons). There are enough sulfides in the ship to produce 5 tons of acid!
The only way scientists found a way to slow down the decay was to keep the main hall of the Vasa Museum around 60 degrees and very dry. This helps the treatment the Vasa received when it was covered in fabric saturated with a liquid engineered to neutralize the acid.
While the original metal parts like screws and bolts have long rusted away, they were replaced with new galvanized ones and covered with epoxy resin. Despite these restorations, the new metal parts have began to rust and are weakening the wood further. While we are unsure of exactly how long the ship will remain intact before time and rot takes her, she has already given us an amazing glimpse into the craftsmanship of the early 1600’s.