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Stockholm Scenes: Vasa Museum showcases warship's salvage, restoration

Mike Harrington

Editor’s note: Mike Harrington is in Sweden to follow the Buffalo Sabres’ trip for games against Tampa Bay on Friday and Saturday. He also will share some of his experiences on the trip.

When I visited with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in August to discuss the Sabres' 50th anniversary season, he had an immediate recommendation for me during the team's journey to Sweden and it didn't involve a restaurant.

"There's a salvaged shipwreck there. It's unlike anything you've ever seen," Bettman said. "The Vasa Museum. Go there. It's spectacular."

The Commish and I might disagree on things like the NHL's playoff format and toenail challenges, but he nailed this one. Scandinavia's most visited museum is a sight to behold.

In the center of it all is the Vasa, the world's only preserved 17th century warship. The massive ship (230 feet long and 170 feet high) sank in Stockholm harbor on its maiden voyage in 1628 – and sat mired in the mud at the bottom of the harbor for 333 years. Seriously.

It wasn't until 1961 that scientists completed a five-year struggle to lift it out of the water intact and start a conservation process that continues today.

The Vasa is nearly 98% original, with the biggest changes being new metal bolts within the wood to keep the ship together that will not rust. Corrosion over time is the ship's biggest enemy. It only survived because the Baltic Sea does not have the heavy concentration of saltwater that would eat away at materials.

The ship sank because engineers failed to account for its top-heavy nature. It began to list in a strong wind and its gun ports were not closed, allowing water to rush in and eventually capsize it.

The ship has seven levels and views adjacent to the ship are available at numerous stops. Because of preservation efforts, visitors are not allowed on board. There are 12 different exhibitions around the ship to tell visitors about its history, the disaster that sank it, the efforts to raise it and the current efforts to prevent its deterioration.

One of the exhibitions replicates in full color the intricate statues that once adorned the Vasa. The actual sculptures remain mostly intact on the hull but in dark brown because they were under water for more than three centuries.

It took 12 years of examining microscopic color fragments to determine the color schemes of the sculptures. The finished products are one of the highlights of the exhibition, as is the 20-minute film reviewing the ship's history.

The museum is a pleasant walk through the Karlaplan neighborhood over a pedestrian bridge to the city island of Djurgarden. And it's easy to see why it's one of Stockholm's most visited attractions.

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