National Geographic : 1962 Jan
the Stockholm archipelago. My father's hob by was history, and his tales of ships sunk in battle and storm spurred me later to grapple and dive for bits of wreckage. On a cruise off Sweden's west coast in 1939, just as World War II was breaking into flame, I saw some timbers riddled by teredos, the most common shipworms. I wondered why I had never found wood so eaten in east and south coast waters. Then I learned that tere dos require a salinity of 0.9 percent to thrive.* The Baltic's average salinity is 0.7 percent. In many areas it is much less. If teredos are not destructive there, I rea soned, the sunken wooden vessels in that sea could not be damaged by them. Water itself preserves wood, barring the presence of de structive organisms. If ever I became rich, I decided, I would find and salvage some of those ships. A lot of money would be needed, for helmet-and-hose diving, the only kind then known to me, was staggeringly expensive. Ancient Charts Pinpoint Wrecks But the war, for all its tragedy, brought with it a tool that would revolutionize under water exploration: self-contained underwater breathing apparatus. Now almost anyone who could swim could dive, and at moderate cost. Encouraged, I plunged into an intensive study of northern Europe's naval history, using what time I could spare from my work as a petroleum engineer. Everything was grist for my research mill - civil and military archives, ships' logs, old charts, even yarns I heard from sailors. The most interesting material, I soon de cided, centered on the large, richly decorated warships of the 16th and 17th centuries. Any notable discoveries from this period would fill a big gap in maritime treasures between the Viking ships of A.D 900 to 1000 and Ad miral Nelson's H.M.S. Victory, built in 1765 and still well preserved-after several res torations-in Portsmouth, England. Soon I had a list of about 30 ships known to have been wrecked off Sweden's east coast. These I narrowed down to about a dozen Vasa among them. At that time I did not rec ognize her as the greatest prize of all. Working in cooperation with the National Maritime Museum in Stockholm, I chose the big warship Riksipplet (Orb of the Realm), KODACHROMEBY NATIONALGEOGRAPHICPHOTOGRAPHERWINFIELD PARKS (C) The author, Swedish Admiralty engineer Anders Franzen, searched for years before finding Vasa's grave in 1956. Here he climbs past the old warship's rudder post. sunk in Dalaro Harbor in 1676. Riksipplet lay only eight fathoms deep, and when we dived to her, we saw that she had been smashed by ice and wave action. Most of her timbers were gone, removed by local people. But now I was convinced that a complete 17th-century hull could be raised-if it was still intact and lay in deeper, calmer water where a salvage fleet could operate. Vasa seemed to fit these specifications. The late Professor Nils Ahnlund, a famous Swedish historian, had rediscovered the trag ic Vasa story while doing research on another shipwreck of 1628. "Find Vasa," he told me, "and you will have the greatest treasure of all." Vasa took top priority on my list. *See "Shipworms, Saboteurs of the Sea," by F. G. Walton Smith, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, October, 1956. Breaking the surface after 333 years under water, Vasa rises on cables looped between two salvage pontoons, which alternately lifted her and coaxed her shoreward. From squared stern to curved bow, Vasa measures half again as long as the Pilgrims' Mayflower. AGFACOLORBY NILS SALLSTEDT @ N.G.S.