9 Of History’s Most Famous Shipwrecks — And How These Doomed Vessels Met Their Ends

Published March 13, 2022
Updated May 25, 2022

The Shocking Sinking Of The Vasa

Vasa Shipwreck

Jorge Láscar/FlickrThe Vasa sank in 1628 and spent more than 300 years underwater before it was salvaged.

The 17th-century Swedish king Gustav II Adolf wanted a warship. And not just any warship — he demanded the construction of an awe-inspiring vessel to strike fear into his enemies. To his chagrin, the resulting Vasa survived just 20 minutes at sea before it buckled under its own weight and sank.

On August 10, 1628, the ship set sail in front of cheering crowds at Stockholm Harbor. At the time, it was certainly a sight to behold. The Vasa stretched more than 226 feet long and was embellished with carvings of the royal family. Plus, its 64 gun cannons made the ship a military marvel.

But as the crowd roared and applauded, an unexpected wind suddenly picked up. The first gust did nothing, but the second gust sent the Vasa flailing toward its port side. As the horrified crowd — which included the king — watched, water began to surge into the ship’s lower gundeck.

And just like that, the mighty ship began to sink. Within minutes, it was more than 100 feet beneath the waves. There it would remain for 333 years.

Vasa Close Up

Hugh Llewelyn/FlickrThe cold temperatures and low oxygen levels at the bottom of the harbor helped preserve the integrity of Vasa.

What happened to the Vasa? Why did it sink so fast? Modern-day experts believed that the ship carried too many guns — it was originally supposed to carry just 36 — and that the king rushed the vessel’s construction.

But even though the Vasa was an embarrassment in its time, it has become one of the world’s most famous shipwrecks in ours. In 1961, Sweden launched a formal effort to retrieve the Vasa from the depths of the ocean.

Today, the ship is held at Stockholm’s famous Vasa Museum, where visitors can marvel at its intricate designs, gaping cannon holes, and the hubris of a king who demanded a ship like no other.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a double degree in American History and French.