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The Vasa
The Vasa was a Swedish warship built in 1628 for King Gustavus Adolphus. On her maiden voyage, the ship floundered and keeled over in a light wind after sailing less than a nautical mile. Wives and children of the 125 crew were invited to take part in the festivities; however, around 50 perished in the tragedy.
In the 17th century, Sweden rose to become one of the most powerful states in the Balkan Sea. Gustavus Adolphus became Sweden”s king at the age of 17 in 1611 and was considered a born leader of great intellect and bravery. A decade later, Sweden was involved with a war with Poland, and looking at the possibility of war with Germany. This required a strong navy, but several setbacks during the 1620s weakened Sweden”s military dominance: a Swedish squadron of 10 shops ran aground in 1625 and was wrecked by a bitter storm while two large warships were outmaneuvered by the Polish navy and defeated in 1627; in 1628, three more ships were lost within a month.
In January 1625, the king ordered Admiral Fleming to sign a contract with Henrik Hybertson and his brother Arend to build four ships, two smaller ones with keels of 108 feet (33 m) and two larger ones of 135 feet (41 m). After losing the 10 ships in a storm, the king sent a concerned letter to Admiral Fleming instructing him to tell Henrik Hybertson that the schedule for the two smaller ships must be expedited. The king also requested that these ships have 120 foot (37 m) keels and include two enclosed gun decks so that they could carry more armament. This presented a dilemma for Hybertson because the timber had already been cut for the specifications outlined in the contract for one smaller ship and one larger ship. Moreover, no one had built a ship with two gun decks before. Hybertson tried to convince the king to follow the original specifications, but the king demanded that the ships be built according to his new measurements. Master Shipwright Hybertson soon became ill in 1625 and died in the spring of 1627, never seeing the Vasa completed. The project was handed over to Hybertson”s assistant, Hein Jacobs-son, who had very little management experience and no detailed records or plans from which to work.
In 1628, Admiral Fleming ordered a test of the Vasa”s stability. This consisted of having 30 sailors running from one side of the ship to the other to assess how the ship would rock. The test was aborted only after three runs; otherwise the ship would have keeled over. The two shipbuilders, Jacobsson and his assistant Johan Isbrandsson, were not present for the test. A member of the crew was heard to make a remark about the ship”s instability, but the admiral replied that “The master shipbuilder surely has built ships before, so there is no need to have worries of that kind.” No doubt the admiral, captain, and crew had wished the king were present, but he was fighting in Poland and sending a stream of messages instructing that the ship be launched immediately.
During the stability test, the ship”s armament was being produced and artists were working feverishly to complete the decorations. The number and types of armaments to be carried by the redesigned Vasa went through a number of revisions as well. The original design called for 32 24-pound guns, but the 135-foot version was to carry 36 24-pound guns, 24 12-pound guns, eight 48-pound mortars, and 10 smaller guns. After further revisions, the king finally ordered the Vasa to carry 64 24-pound guns (32 on each deck) and as many as 60 24-pound guns. The idea was to arm the Vasa with powerful guns and a high stern that could act as a firing platform in boarding actions for the 300 soldiers the ship was to carry.
Moreover, it was customary for warships to be decorated ornately with hundreds of gilded and painted sculptures of Biblical, mythical, and historical themes to glorify the authority and power of the king and to frighten or taunt the enemy. The 500 sculptures added considerably to the effort and cost of the ship as well as raising the ship”s center of gravity and contributing to its instability. During this period, no methods for calculating the ship”s center of gravity, heeling characteristics, and stability existed, so shipbuilders and captains had to design and learn how a ship handled through trial and error.
On August 10, 1628 Captain Sofring Hansson ordered the Vasa to set sail on its maiden voyage. The wind was relatively calm with only a light breeze from the southwest. The gun ports were open so that a salute could be fired as the ship left her shipyard in Stockholm. Suddently, a gust of wind filled her sails and the ship heeled to port. The ship slowly righted herself, but another gust pushed the ship again to her port side where water began to flow through her open gun ports. The Vasa heeled even further, until she sank in about 100 feet of water not far from shore. The ship sank in front of hundreds or even thousands of people who had come to see the ship sail on her first voyage. Survivors clung to debris while many boats rushed to their aid. Despite heroics and the short distance to shore, records indicate that as many as 50 people perished with the ship.
The king was notified of the Vasa”s fate by letter. He wrote a reply that “imprudence and negligence” must have been the cause and that the guilty parties would be punished. Captain Hansson survived and was imprisoned immediately to await trial. The captain and crew were interrogated regarding the handling of the ship as well as the sobriety of the captain and crew. Crew members and contractors blamed each other and everyone swore that they had done their job without fault. When asked why the ship was built to be so narrow and so unstable, the ship-wright Jacobsson said that he had simply followed orders as directed by the long dead and buried Henrik Hybertsson, who had followed the king”s orders. In the end, no one was sent to prison or found guilty of negligence. The disaster was explained as an act of God, but the sinking of the Vasa ended up being a major economic disaster for a small country.
What were some of the major problems associated with this project?
What lessons can we learn from the sinking of Vasa that can be applied to IT projects?

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