If a maritime catastrophe expert was asked about an example of one of the most interesting stories, he would probably mention the case of Vasa. In 1961, this very warship was taken out of the sea to be examined by scientists. It is known for being the most expensive and the most decorated ship in the 17th century’s Sweden. The ship that, after sailing 1,300 metres, sunk in the harbour of Stockholm. This embarrassing distance unfortunately did not live up to the expectations people had of Vasa, which was supposed to outshine all the military units on the Baltic Sea at that time.
The king of Sweden, who resided in Prussia, could not wait until the sails of Vasa ship would flutter in the air, showing the power of his majesty. Hostile nations gossiped about the impressive armament of the ship; and for a good reason. Over three years, shipwrights, woodworkers, smiths, glassworkers, ropemakers, sailmakers and woodcarvers worked hard in sweat every day to make everyone’s jaws drop at the sight of the ship’s 50-metre masts and 64 heavy cannons.
The jaws did drop, but particularly those of the citizens of Stockholm, who on 10th August 1628 gathered around the harbour to admire Vasa’s first departure. How great their puzzlement had to be, or even dismay, when shortly after unfurling sails, the wind blew a bit stronger and the ship simply tilted, causing the water to pour inside and the whole construction sunk to the bottom of the sea.
There were approximately 100 members of the crew on the ship, along with some families who were allowed to participate in the first cruise. Unfortunately, around 50 people did not rescue themselves, as they resided underneath the deck and could not manage to save their lives in this tragical yet absurd situation.
Investigations to find and punish the guilty person began shortly after the catastrophe. The Swedish king was particularly persistent, thinking the fault lied in someone’s imprudence and carelessness. It was suspected that the crew was drunk; the captain of the ship categorically denied that. Then, some suppositions appeared that the cannons were wrongly attached. This hypothesis was denied by the results of research conducted on the shipwreck. Only after mathematical calculations was it concluded that the construction of the ship had little stability arising from bad proportions of the ship.
To build the ship, workers used numerical data that was secretly passed from generation to generation. However, they did not know how to create the necessary construction drawings and do some important mathematical calculations to build a proper ship that could live up to the king’s ambitions.
The ship was too big and overloaded; all it took was a little wind to trip it. No one was punished, as many contributed to the tragedy, including king Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, who personally legitimised every stage of this faulty project.
This story teaches us gently that a big ego may, sooner or later, lead people and their projects to the very bottom (of the sea).
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