A newspaper for ECU faculty and staff
Pieces of Eight

ECU student Elizabeth Wyllie records details on the Swedish warship, Vasa during a December trip to Stockholm. (Photo by Peter Campbell)

Stewart Leads Hands-on Research on Swedish Ship

By Erica Plouffe Lazure

A project between East Carolina University’s Maritime Studies program and the Swedish National Maritime Museums in Stockholm will contribute to the growing body of knowledge about the Vasa, an ill-fated seventeenth-century royal Swedish warship.

Led by David J. Stewart, professor in maritime studies, the project enabled five ECU maritime graduate students to travel to Stockholm in December to help catalog the ship, which sank on her maiden voyage in Stockholm Harbor in 1628.

“Until 2006, there had never been a definitive publication of the ship,” Stewart said. “The museum needed help recording parts of the ship, and it was good for our students to have a hands-on learning experience. And we’re making good international connections, too.”

The ECU students were charged with logging the ship’s beakhead, a section of the ship that holds several key sail controls and the latrines. In addition to the work they carried out in Sweden, they also had several primers on ship-building, and then made a plan for conducting the research for the beakhead.

“We met as a group and developed a research plan to get it done in three weeks,” said Amy Leuchtmann, an ECU maritime studies student. “Then we got there and had a better feel for it, and changed plans. We had to do detailed drawings by hand.” The students also used a total station to shoot approximately 650 points, which were then imported into a computer aided drafting program to produce a three-dimensional model of the 30-foot beakhead.

The students’ survey was conducted under the direction of Fred Hocker, head of the Vasa research project, and will contribute to the second volume of the official report of the Vasa, to be released later this year. Hocker, who had been Stewart’s teacher, was commissioned to catalogue and publish a series of books about the warship, which had been raised in 1961 and is considered a great historical artifact among the Swedes.

The ship, constructed during the Thirty Years War, is believed to have capsized as it left Stockholm Harbor because there was not enough weight in the bottom of the ship – it had been mostly empty, ready to be filled with artillery and supplies at its first stop – to balance out the top-heavy upper levels.

At least one of the ECU students plans to return to the Vasa to conduct thesis research on the ship’s galley and to understand how food was prepared on the ship, Stewart said. Students who conducted the study are: Theresa Hicks, Peter Campbell, Amy Leuchtmann, Eric Ray and Elizabeth Wyllie.

A link to the group’s blog can be found at

This page originally appeared in the Feb. 29, 2008 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at