Our three-hour voyage passes without mishap, which is more than you can say for Stockholm’s most famous ship, the Vasa.
On August 10, 1628, the vessel sailed out from the city’s harbour to sail the seas, only to make it less than a mile before capsizing at a depth of 32 metres – still within sight of the shipyard where it was built. As maiden voyages go, it makes the Titanic appear a success story.
Commissioned by King Gusav II Adolf, the Vasa should never have set sail in the first place. The king ordered an extra deck full of canons to be built above the water line. Its safety check – which consisted of a few dozen sailors running up and down the deck to replicate the waves – was aborted from fear that the ship might sink. Quite how anyone thought it would fare around the Cape is anyone’s guess. Sadly, nobody was brave enough to inform the king that his new toy was unseaworthy. At least 15 people perished in the Stockholm harbour that day. The top ship simply toppled over after a slight gust of wind.
The Vasa rested on the seabed for more than 300 years before it was salvaged in 1962 – as it was setting of on its maiden voyage there was no booty of New World gold to tempt adventurous divers. Now it stands in a dedicated museum.
Over 90 percent of the timber is original. And as more than 1,000 oak trees were felled for its construction, this gives you an idea of the scale of the Vasa. But it’s not just its vastness that awes. The ornate design of the carvings with wooden figureheads designed to ward off courageous pirates and evil spirits is equally impressive, unfortunately they proved quite useless against proud kings.
The highly impressive Vasa Museum is one of many cultural attractions included in a Stockholm Pass, as well as the Archipelago Cruise, that can be bought from the tourism centre. The great thing about such passes is that when you encounter a museum that doesn’t exactly rock your boat, you can always pop into another one. The previous day having been left totally underwhelmed by the Nordic Museum, I ventured to Gamla Stan, or the Old Town, where I breezed through the Royal Palace before ending up at the Nobel Museum.
An hour later I emerged delighted by the display on literature and stocked up with such a dense understanding of the prizes that I suspect I could take it as my specialist knowledge category in Mastermind.