Modern Times

The Biggest Ship in the World.

Modern Times, As Seen Through Ship Design, Part 3.


P511 The Fifth Epoch As Seen In Ship Design - Part - 3 Vasa_stern_color_model It was the Year Of Our Lord 1626, and King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden was fighting wars across the Baltic, and needed a new warship. Since he was rich and powerful, his thoughts immediately ran to something that would express this. So he brought in some Dutch shipbuilders, and when a Dutchman is a good tradesman, they are the best. Both conscientious and hard working.

They showed Gustavus Adolphus what they could do, showing him drawings of the vessels they had built or had helped build. Being Dutch, they were broad and had a shallow draft – that is to say, the vessels didn’t sit very deeply in the water. This was something the waters of the Netherlands demanded: ever shifting sand meant channels were not only shallow, but treacherous. The Dutch under de Ruyter would win a battle by tempting the Spanish fleet onto a sand bar. A sand bar that the Dutch had sailed across quite casually.

There are advantages to a vessel with a shallow draught. So the new vessel would be built in this style. But there was a problem, and it is a problem that we will meet time and time again in this series: the person wanting the vessel wanted something just a little bigger. Well it all looked good on paper: the Dutch design was increased in size by around 50%. The vessel, which would be christened Wasa, would also have two gun decks. Not only that, but the guns would be bigger and heavier than anything afloat. Indeed, the vessel would be the heaviest armed vessel for a century. Naturally, being a King, he named this vessel after his family, Wasa.

So, the Dutchmen got building and Gustavus Adolphus returned to the other side of the Baltic to knock a few heads together. Everything went swimmingly, and eventually the vessel was launched and fitted out. As with many warships of the time, the stern was decorated profusely. Not as profusely as later vessels, where in the case of English vessels such as the notable ‘Loyal London’ the decorations on the stern would cost more than the rest of the ship put together. Oh, and the Dutch did for her, too. Nevertheless, Wasa was a beautiful ship and everybody was proud of her.

There were a few doubters, but with the king away in Poland, there was nothing to do but get on with the job and send her to sea. Which is what they did. As the vessel drifted from the shore in the light breeze, everything was fine. A gentle gust of wind blew up, the kind of thing that might blow off one’s hat. It was the kind of wind a sailing vessel should enjoy, for it really makes the decks move beneath one’s feet and gives a feeling of real power. Only for poor Wasa, it was too much. The heavy cannon along with the instability that comes with a shallow vessel meant that she heeled too strongly. This wasn’t the accident that sank the Mary Rose seventy years before; she sank as the result of a tragic lack of communication. The Wasa was designed to sink.

P511 The Fifth Epoch As Seen In Ship Design - Part - 3 Voyage_of_the_Vasa
Which is precisely what she did. Cannon broke from their fittings and toppled on the steeply inclined deck, thus compounding the problem. The Wasa sank beneath the waves after sailing less than a mile.

And all because Gustavus Adolphus wanted the biggest vessel in the world. Which would have been fine if she’d stayed in port. But the key to the modern times we live in is to realize that people are tempted to overstep the mark. The problem comes because they are rarely tempted to check their facts with reality. After all, how can one if one has assumed that all will be fine?

Modern Times

This is the age of consciousness soul: the part of the soul which waves a warning finger to those who have eyes to see it. For those still embedded in the comforts of the intellectual soul, those warning signs are, quite simply, beyond their ability to comprehend.

Now as to the next episode of this erratic series, I’m not too sure. Progress in ship design was pretty slow, and even the vessels built in the Napoleonic times would be something a shipwright who built Wasa would be able to create. But having said that, there was one thing that made the English warships so much more effective during the Napoleonic wars, and that is what I will discuss next time. And another naughty little beer barrel that did sink a warship, long before anyone imagined it. Leave alone do. Once we have discussed those, iron and steel enter from the wings, and the real fun starts.


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