TDISH: An Embarrassing Launch

On August 10, 1628, King Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden and his entourage were gathered on the docks of the Stockholm shipyards to take part in the ceremonies to launch the king’s newest warship, the Vasa, named after the ruling dynasty.  The massive ship, armed with 64 800px-Vasa_stern_color_model.jpgbronze cannons, was the largest warship in the world and was meant to be symbolic of Sweden’s rise to the ranks of the Great Powers of the seventeenth century.  Unfortunately, today would not be the triumph Gustavus II Adolphus hoped.  Less than 20 minutes and about one mile into her maiden voyage, the Vasa was struck by two strong winds that caused the massive ship to founder and sink to the bottom of the Baltic Sea, killing 30 crewmen.

For years, a mystery has surrounded these events – what exactly caused such an amazing ship to sink so quickly.  Recent studies have shown that the ship was particularly top heavy and was so cutting edge in its construction that it went past the technological capabilities of the day.  However, there was also a borderline comic reason for the sinking – the ship was lopsided.  Why was it lopsided?  Well, of the four construction leaders on the ship, two used a Swedish ruler that measured 1 foot and was divided into 12 inches and two used a Dutch ruler that measured 1 foot, but was divided into 11 inches.  So depending on who was doing the measuring, the measurements of an inch were different and thus led to major structural problems with the ship.

Featured Image: “The Vasa.” By JavierKohen – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Image 1. “Painted Model of the Vasa.” By Peter Isotalo – Own work, CC BY 3.0.
Source: Chatterjee, Rhitu. “New Clues Emerge in Centuries-Old Swedish Shipwreck.PRI‘s The World. 23 February 2012.
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