The Sails of the Wasa

On the 12th of August 1626 a contract was signed with Hans Klerck regarding rigging of the ships of the Navy, including the new ship which was building (the Wasa).

. . . alla ankartåg, stående vant, löpande takel och kablar vara slagna av den finaste Königsberger- eller Rigahampa. Men skönvallen av bred fransk duk och märssegelen av gott fransk kanfas.

The sails set at the maiden voyage on the 10th of August 1628 were:

Head Foot Drop
Foresail 16,50 16,50 8,50
Fore topsail 7,60 15,20 13,60
Main topsail 12,00 20,50 14,70
Mizzen 16,45 8,15

When the Wasa was raised in 1961 the sail-locker was discovered on the orlop deck on the larboard side of the mizzen mast. Sails, which were recovered from the sail-locker, included:

Spritsail 12,96 12,96 6,60
Sprit topsail 6,10 13,15 9,15
Fore top-gallant sail 3,80 7,60 5,50 32 sq. m.
Mainsail 33,00 33,00 20,70 320 sq. m.
Main top-gallant sail 6,50 12,00 8,15
Mizzen top-sail 6,50 12,00 9,50
Mizzen bonnet 16,45 17,15 1,68

These sails corresponded to a total of 170 sq.m. The total sail-area is estimated to have been 1200 sq.m.

Among coils of ropes, spare blocks etc was found two heaps of what seemed to be sails. The smaller heap contained two sails of different kinds of cloth. The coarser cloth had 10-12 threads per centimeter in the warp but only 7 in the weft, while the finer cloth had 11-13 threads per cm in the warp and 9-11 in the weft.

It has not been possible to determine if the cloth was made of hemp or linen due to the decomposition of the fibres. It seems probable though that at least the cloth for the larger sails were made of hemp. For the weft a low quality tow yarn was used.

The fact that the weft was straight from selvage to selvage while the warp was waving over and under the weft implies that the sails were new and never used. When used the cloth stretched somewhat and became slightly narrower. In this respect the hand woven cloth of the sails of the Wasa did not differ from the later machine woven sail cloth.

Two kind of seams were used, a simple round seam on the smaller sails and a one inch wide double round seam on the larger. No flat seams were used, it is not known when the round seam was substituted by the flat seam. The round seam was probably not entirly replaced, at least not in England, as Kipping [The Elements of Sailmaking, 1847] states that double round seams were used.

Only one kind of twine was used to sew the sails, it was S-laid from two threads. The twine was taken double, ie one twine in the needle except for the heavier leeching which were done with two threads taken double. All seams were sewn from the bottom to the top and were placed on the back side of the sails as well as tablings and boltropes. On the fore-and-aft sails these were placed on the port side.

Compared to more modern practice the tablings were quite narrow, on the examined topgallant sail only 1½ inch at the standing, and foot leech, while slightly broader at the head or 2 inch to take the holes for the robands. For the larger sail the corresponding figures were 3 inch resp. 4 inch tabling. These figures correspond to the rule given by Rajalin [Nödig Underrättelse om Skiepz-Byggeriet, 1730], who says that the tabling should be 7/8 inch for every inch in the boltrope. The sails had a plain tabling on the same side as the bolt rope. One gets the impression that the sails were made in a great haste and possibly still unfinished and only the critical details were done by a skilled sailmaker. Except for the tabling there were no linings, bands or corner pieces.

After cleaning and conservation the preserved sails have been imbedded in clear plastic. The fore top-gallant sail, the best preserved and most complete sail, is now exhibited at the museum in the Sailing Ship Exhibition.


Updated 1997-04-07 by Lars Bruzelius.

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Copyright © 1996 Lars Bruzelius.