The Slow Decay of Sweden’s 17th Century Warship Vasa

The decaying hulk of 17th century warship Vasa in Sweden (Image: JavierKohen; grand warship wreck in the Vasa Museum)

The Vasa is the world’s only completely preserved 17th century warship. Salvaged in 1961, her hulk sits in a museum in Stockholm, where she’s been on display since 1990. Until just over half a century ago, the Vasa had rested on the bottom of the sea for 333 years. More than a million people visit the ship every year, but according to Wired, there’s more going on with her remains than meets the eye.

(Image: Peter Isotalo)

Vasa (Image: OneHungLow; the port side of wrecked warship)

The Vasa sank in 1628, only about a mile into her maiden voyage. The flagship of a nation at the height of its power, the ill-fated warship proved alarmingly top-heavy. Her destruction came swiftly, after she capsized under her own weight. Around 30 people died in the Vasa’s sinking. After her bronze cannons had been salvaged, the shipwreck was largely forgotten. Until 1961, at least, when she was pulled out of the waters and prepped for preservation.

Inside the warship Vasa's lower gun deck (Image: Peter Isotalo; the Swedish shipwreck’s lower gun deck)

By 2000, the salvaged warship’s hull had begun to show signs of additional wear and tear and, according to Wired, it wasn’t until 2012 that the Vasa’s caretakers realised her hull was slowly weakening on a molecular level. Already about 40 percent weaker than standard oak, the Vasa seemed to be suffering from a progressive decay that began not at the bottom of the sea, but once the shipwreck was exposed to air.

(Image: Allie Caulfield)

Conservators at the Swedish National Maritime Museum stress that the Vasa is still in excellent condition for her age (not to mention the fact that she lay derelict on the seabed for more than 300 years). They also pointed out that her hull is not in danger of disintegrating any time soon. But, little by little, the proud warship once hailed as a nation’s crowning glory is slowing dying a “second death”.

(Image: Jonathan Pio)

Related: Abandoned Warships: 10 Decaying Aircraft Carriers, Submarines & Other Military Vessels



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