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The Vasa sinking

The Swedish flagship Vasa’s first and final sailing in August 1628 left fine fodder for future management consultants-an all-purpose cautionary tale of an overbearing but technically clueless boss pushing through his pet project. King Gustavus II Adolphus, striving to make Sweden a superpower, had wanted four new warships built fast. Workmen were already laying the Vasa’s keel when the king ordered its length extended. His seasoned master shipwright, fearing to challenge the famously hot-tempered king, went ahead. The shipwright then took ill, directed the project as best he could from his sickbed and died before it was finished. His inexperienced assistant then took over, and the king ordered a second gun deck, possibly spurred by false reports that rival Denmark was building a ship with double gun decks. The result was the most lavishly appointed and heavily armed warship of its day, but one too long and too tall for its beam and ballast-a matchless array of features on an unstable platform. When the standard stability test of the day-30 sailors running from side to side trying to rock the boat-tilted the Vasa perilously, the test was canceled and the ship readied for launch. None of Gustavus’s officials dared bear the bad news to the absent king, who was by then off warring in Poland and impatiently awaiting his new superweapon. Minutes after her grand launching, with all Stockholm watching, the Vasa heeled, listed and sank, killing about 50.

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