What of the
Excerpt from Constructing Spiritual Stability by Dale G. Renlund who was a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when this devotional was given on 16 September 2014.
Let me begin by relating an obscure historical event, and then I will draw out some lessons that can be learned from this remote maritime misfortune.
In the early seventeenth century, Sweden was a world power. Sweden’s king, Gustav II Adolf, commissioned a warship that would be christened the Vasa. The ship represented a substantial outlay of resources, particularly the oak from which the vessel would be built. Oak was so valuable that cutting down an oak tree without authorization was a capital offense. Gustav Adolf closely oversaw the construction process, attempting to ensure that theVasa would fully realize his expectations.
After construction had begun, Gustav Adolf ordered the Vasa to be made longer. Because the width supports had already been built from precious oak, the king directed the builders to increase the ship’s length without increasing its width. Although the shipwrights knew that doing so would compromise the Vasa’s seaworthiness, they were hesitant to tell the king something they knew he did not want to hear. They complied. Gustav Adolf also insisted that this ship have not simply the customary single deck of guns but cannons on three decks, with the heaviest cannons on the upper deck. Again, against their better judgment, the shipwrights complied.
Over the course of several years, shipwrights, carpenters, rope makers, and others worked diligently to build the Vasa. Over one thousand oak trees were used to complete the ship. It had sixty-four cannons and masts taller than 150 feet. To give the ship the opulence befitting a king’s flagship, several hundred gilded and painted sculptures were added.
On August 10, 1628, the Vasa began its maiden voyage. In view of countless spectators, the ship left its mooring directly below the royal castle in Stockholm. After being pulled along by anchors for the first several hundred feet, the Vasa left the shelter of the harbor. A stronger wind entered its sails, and the ship began to tip. The Vasa righted itself slightly, but only temporarily. Before long, as recorded by an observer, “she heeled right over and water gushed in through the gun ports until she slowly went to the bottom under sail, pennants and all.”1 The Vasa’s maiden voyage was about 4,200 feet.
The Vasa rested at the bottom of the Baltic Sea until it was recovered three centuries later in 1961. It was successfully raised from the seabed and towed back to Stockholm. Today the Vasarests in a temperature- and humidity-controlled museum in Djurgården, an island in central Stockholm. I have a model of the ship in my office at Church headquarters as a reminder of several lessons that underlie its short, tragic history.
Despite the Vasa’s magnificent appearance, the ship was not seaworthy. The alterations in its construction resulted in it not having sufficient lateral stability to enable safe seafaring. Gustav Adolf’s desire for an extravagant status symbol ruined the design of what would have been a magnificent sailing vessel, the mightiest warship of its time. The shipbuilders’ reluctance to speak up—their fear of the king’s displeasure—deprived the king of their knowledge and insight. All involved lost sight of the goals of the enterprise: to protect Sweden and to promote its interests abroad. A ship that attempts to defy the laws of physics is simply a boat that won’t float.