National Geographic : 1962 Jan
It was a delicate task, inching the ship up ward while keeping the pontoons in proper trim by flooding their compartments. But fi nally there she was - a ghost of a ship, lost for centuries, back among the living (page 46). Powerful pumps went to work aboard Vasa, and by May 4 the ship, afloat with a slight list to port, was tugged into the dry dock at Beckholmen. There she was propped up on a concrete raft. A sprinkler system was introduced to keep the ship wet; should she dry out, her timbers would quickly deterio rate (pages 50 and 53). She will be preserved with polyethylene glycol, a waxy, water-sol uble material that sinks in and forces out moisture, at the same time strengthening the wood. Eventually Vasa will be enclosed in a concrete-and-glass structure a quarter of a mile from Beckholmen. Cause of Disaster Still Argued Why did Vasa sink? Many authorities believe Vasa was "crank" - that is, likely to capsize. She evidently was unstable, but I do not believe that she was any more crank than many other large 16th and 17th-century vessels. Who was to blame for the disaster? The master of Vasa testified before a naval court of inquiry that he had noticed-and re ported to the admiral-the ship's instability even before she left the quay. The shipwright maintained that he had followed the plans of naval architect Henrik Hybertsson almost precisely. Hybertsson? The man who knew most about Vasa's design had died some months earlier. Besides, his plans had been approved by the king himself. Unwilling, perhaps, to delve further, the court adjourned without fixing blame or punishing anyone. No evidence had been presented to prove that Vasa was badly designed for her time, or improperly sailed. Faulty distribution of weight on board - especially heavy cannon on the upper decks--was almost certainly one of the reasons for the disaster. Those open gunports surely were another. Questions of blame and failure do not trou ble me when occasionally of an evening I go to Beckholmen and stroll beside the Vasa. Often I go aboard the submarine-rescue ship Belos to relive salvage adventures with Com mander Bo Cassel and his divers. The divers still mutter uncomfortably about having robbed the Old One of his Vasa. But for myself, if I were to encounter the Old One, I think I would greet him with a short Swedish word: "Tack." It means "Thanks." KODACHROMEBY W. E. ROSCHER© N.G.S. High and dry in dry dock at Beckholmen, Vasa awaits restoration. She is the world's oldest pre served, fully identified ship.