National Geographic : 1962 Jan
-.. . . - - --.... - _ ---- . -- ----- y . _-_ -- = - - __ -7-=._ -_ The short, unhappy life of this great ship and subsequent efforts to salvage her have few parallels in naval history. In January, 1625, King Gustaf II Adolf ordered his chief naval architect, Dutch-born Henrik Hybertsson, to build four new war ships. Their construction was started at the Royal Dockyard-on the approximate site now occupied by the Grand Hotel. The largest of these vessels, bearing the regal name Vasa, was to be flagship of the Home Squadron. In design she was similar to the Mayflower, which had sailed to Amer ica just a few years before.* From the trailing edge of her rudder to the nose of her figurehead, the Swedish galleon measured nearly 180 feet; a sharply raked bowsprit added another 30 feet to her over all length. The loss of such a giant, for her day, amounted to a national disaster. Stockholm's church bells had scarcely *For an account of the building of Mayflower II and her voyage from England to the United States, see in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: "We're Coming Over on the Mayflower," May, 1957, and "How We Sailed the New Mayflower to America," November, 1957, both by Capt. Alan Villiers. Primitive diving bell enabled salvagers in the 1660's to recover 53 of Vasa's 64 guns. Standing on a platform suspended beneath the bell, the diver breathed air com pressed at the top of the chamber while he fished for cannon. Casks carried extra air. When Vasa came to rest on the bottom in 1628, her topgallant masts actu ally jutted above the surface. Memory of the warship faded after early salvage efforts ended. A modern Swed ish artist drew these impressions. Risking their lives, helmeted divers drove six tunnels beneath Vasa. Through the tubes, they threaded steel cables which were then suspended from pontoons on the surface. Emptied by pumps, the floats rose and lifted the hulk. Divers and frogmen worked by touch alone because each movement stirred blinding clouds of mud, which rose to the stern's top plank. Here the artist strips away the silt to show the men who recovered hundreds of artifacts, including a carved coat of arms, part of which he depicts.