Monthly magazine of the Federation of NOT Scientific and Technical Associations

30th edition of the Golden Engineer poll

Trails of industrial tourism (6): Modern Viking offensive

What is the unquestionable cultural code of modern Scandinavians? Of course, everything related to the Vikings!

The very origin of the word viking – engraved on rune stones – is still not fully clear, but there is no doubt that the Old Norse term viking meant an overseas expedition, while the form vikingr referred to a warrior taking part in it. And it is significant that in the 11th century. German chronicler and geographer Adam of Bremen called them “ash people,” suggesting that the Vikings used ash to build boats, yet oak was undoubtedly considered a better material. This situation was due to the insufficient availability of oak wood. For this reason, we also have a Polish thread in Scandinavian medieval boatbuilding!

In the 15th and 16th centuries. Not only was our Republic said to be the granary of Europe. The English diplomat George Carew called the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth a storehouse of shipbuilding materials. Among other things, in the so-called “The Republic of Poland. Kaunas book, where entries had been made since 1561. through 1564. we will find information showing that the wood was properly prepared, seasoned, sorted according to quality, so as to be a good material for boat construction. (see also e.g. H. Samsonowicz, Lithuania’s Trade with the West in the 15th Century, Historical Review, t. 90, z. 4, 1999 s. 453-458).

Nowadays, a wide spectrum of research is being performed, including dendrochronological studies, allowing to precisely trace the changes occurring in medieval boatbuilding techniques and materials used, and to determine the place and time of construction of historic boat wrecks excavated from the sea abyss.

Regardless of all the findings of archaeologists, historians, or linguists, interest in the Vikings has not waned for many years. And the TV series “Vikings” is not the only evidence of this.

From boatbuilder to conservationist

Stockholm has many interesting places to visit. From the Nobel Museum to the ABBA Museum. Our list, however, must not miss the one created in 2009. The Swedish National Museum of Technology and Engineering, the Viking Museum and the Spritmuseum.

And above all, the Vasa Museum, located on the island of Djurgården, is worth seeing. A large part of it is the Royal National City Park. It will take us no more than a quarter of an hour to get there from downtown Stockholm or Viking Harbor.

Moored on the island are historic ships: “Sankt Erik,” one of Sweden’s first icebreakers, and also “Finngrundet,” a lighthouse keeper. However, they are not the biggest draw for the crowds arriving at Djurgården. It is the royal galleon “Vasa”. For this ship, the Swedes – decided to build a special building to display it.

During the opening of the Vasa Museum, in his official speech, Swedish King Gustav XVI did not fail to remind – a relatively recently proven fact – that the ship “Vasa”, built in 1626-1628, was built from logs of oak trees growing in Polish forests.

The dilemma of units of measurement

The richly decorated royal galleon “Vasa” of impressive – for the time – dimensions, was to be the pride of the Swedish Navy. With the bowsprit, it was 69 meters long and almost 12 meters wide. He did not – unfortunately – even manage to set all the sails on his first voyage. After sailing just one mile, it sank. Of the crew of four hundred, fifty sailors were swallowed up by the sea. However, the disaster did not occur during the storm. All it took was a stronger gust of wind for the galleon to bottom out. The disaster was the result of mistakes made by the builders. The ship was built asymmetrically and did not have adequate stability. One team of boat builders used the so-called “boatbuilders” in its construction. Amsterdam foot, the other from Sweden. They differed from each other by more than 1.5 cm. The alleged sabotage in this case was even suspected of… Polish agents, who allegedly changed the ship’s construction plans. (“Vasa” was, among other things, intended to take part in the war with Poland). Meanwhile, the drowning of the vessel was the result of a series of obvious mistakes made during construction. The above-water part of the ship was too heavy, even more so with 64 heavy guns gathered on the upper decks, making it impossible to maintain balance.

Museum service for posterity

After 333 years of sinking, the ship “Vasa” has been recovered. And after painstaking restoration, since 1990. has become the most visited maritime monument in Sweden, breaking attendance records year after year.

Now the galleon “Vasa” is on museum duty instead of naval duty. As a result of many years of conservation work, during which the museum’s conservators demonstrated the utmost mastery and the application of the latest techniques for the protection of wooden monuments, it was possible to prepare it for exhibition.

Although the ship’s hull was preserved in its entirety, as many as 13,500 loose parts found had to be fitted to it. In addition, the museum has recreated for visitors the upper gun deck and admiral’s cabin

The galleon was not destined to become a glory of the art of shipbuilding, but it is certainly an excellent showcase of the achievements of modern conservation techniques, while also providing a successful demonstration of the display capabilities of turn-of-the-twentieth-century museology. The boatbuilders’ blunder, after more than three centuries, was perfectly turned into a success.

Marek Bielski