Hacker News new | more | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Why the Swedish Vasa Ship Sank – An Engineer's Explanation (simscale.com)
58 points by Tomte 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 27 comments

I recently read Wikipedia[0] article about Vasa which in my opinion is a worthy read that covers many aspects not covered by the linked article.

Fun fact: statue of 20th-century Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi, was placed (by SCUBA) on the ship as a prank by students of Helsinki University of Technology the night before the final lift and remains till today as part of cataloged artifacts.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasa_(ship)

There's a little bit of extra context there.

A Swedish led committee prevented Paavo Nurmi from entering the 1932 olympics, on what people, then and now, regard as trumped up charges. (Nurmi had won nine gold medals in the previous three olympics) The affair was dragged out over many months, with the committee constantly ignoring the usual way these things were handled, and the final appeal denial happening at the olympics with Nurmi there to compete.

Finland was mad! They cut off all sporting cooperation with Sweden. And as this prank shows, they have never really forgotten it.


In slightly fewer words - Vasa sunk because it was built tall and thin, and because of its high centre of gravity, tipped over on its maiden voyage in 1628.

Like the Mary Rose in England, the ship turned out to be an archeological treasure trove, and the museums make an excellent visit.

I had to work in Stockholm a few years ago with some colleagues from various nations at a standards meeting. We visited the Vasa museum and had a great time soaking up the history. But to our modern eyes, the height of the ship looked crazy compared with its width, and we were all amazed that anyone could have ever thought it would ever stay afloat, even back in the 17th century.

By the way, the redundant diagram of nautical terms lacks the one term relevant here: beam, the width of a vessel

I think they said on the tour that only some centimeters were missing in width, and everything would have been fine.

On tour, we've been told that a sister ship made at the same time was one meter wider and served 10+ years without problems.

They built several "Vasa class" ships. The other ships sailed. As time went on, they continued to build higher ships with even more guns on more decks.

Yes, but over time the trend was to make them wider as well, so much more stable. By the 1800's for example (battle of trafalgar era) the ships were uniformly more squat.

At one visit to the museum, my son played a computer game where he had to hit the sweet spot designing a ship for the king. First attempt failed like the Vasa. The second was rejected because it lacked firepower. The third was stable and had plenty of guns. It was also unmaneuverable. The best warships were probably right up to the edge when handled properly, like a race car.

This is an interesting story, and is going to lead to a bunch more research on my part, but this feels very much like someone just trying to fill space on a page...

For instance, the bit about defining the "terminologies related to shipbuilding" with a diagram with all sorts of very specific labels, of which exactly one gets used later...

I've actually gotten to visit the Vasa museum, and although it sounds a bit strange, it was totally worth it. Totally recommend it if you're ever in Stockholm.

I visited the museum as well and it's a fantastic experience. Well recommended, the best thing to do in Stockholm.

same. one of the best museums i've been to, and you can immediately see both the engineering flaws and human cost.

This reminds me of a quote from Scott Myers:

The Vasa was a 17th-century Swedish warship which suffered such feature creep during construction that it sank shortly after leaving the harbour on its maiden voyage. In the early 1990s, the C++ standardisation committee adopted the Vasa as a cautionary tale, discouraging prospective language extensions with "Remember the Vasa!" Yet C++ continued to grow, and by the time C++ was standardised, its complexity made the Vasa look like a rowboat.[0]

[0] https://youtube.com/watch?v=ltCgzYcpFUI

> the heart of the mystery

It was top heavy.

The Vasa and the Mary Rose (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Rose) appear to be rather similar on the face of it. They suffered similar fates - sinking unexpectedly, however the Mary Rose was over 30 years old (I had no idea until reading the WP article - I thought the MR was much younger on sinking) whereas the Vasa keeled over in a eight knot wind on her maiden voyage. Both were cutting edge and designed to do the "shock and awe" of the time.

Ad for engineering software. But well written.

"Well written"? I take it English isn't your first language.

That's an advertorial not an explanation...

I was also somewhat annoyed reading it. At the fist look, it looks like it will contain some real technical details of some very specific issue. But in fact it just reproduces some seriously-looking diagrams which are very loosely related to the topic, and then the explanation is just:

"Henrik Hybertsson just “scaled-up” the dimensions of the original 108-ft ship to meet the length and breadth of the new 135-ft Vasa." "At this point, the Vasa was becoming much wider at the top than the bottom. The ship’s center of gravity was much higher than designed."


And then not a single detail about why would "scaling-up" from 108 to 135ft really disastrously move the center of gravity or anything comparable follows, and there's no any specific analysis of the relevant dimensions of the very ship. So all the diagrams are more the "decoration."

At least is is nicely written that the "political wishes" dominated the construction and that it's not known that the proper calculations were performed.

Yesterday was the day the Vasa sank, so I was looking for a nice article that touches on flaws in construction, the testing in the harbor, and not least the fact that nobody was actually punished (which seems quite enlightened!).

I don't care that a company with a product is behind that article. It is still a good article. And it is much more open and honest about it than a lot of other articles that we have on HN.

And the ultimate reason of this catastrophe was: Ignoring the System test result and prematurely releasing into production.

'test was stopped at the ship rocked so violently that it was feared that it would heel'... yet nobody did anything about it.

Nothing new for IT - shipping too early :)

"In the months that followed, King Gustav changed his orders several times, leading to total chaos and confusion for the builders."

This also sounds typical...

The diagram at the top has a 13th item labeled, yet the 13th term's definition is skipped! It seems like there was a difference of opinion as to whether 13 is unlucky, perhaps?

'From Acorn to Arabella', ongoing shipbuilding series on youtube, recently taught me how insane lead ballasts even a small ship can/must have.

On the tour, they claimed that feature creep wasn't so much of a factor, rather it was an experimental build. No theories existed.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact