In the spring of 2023, maritime archaeologists at Vrak together with the Swedish navy once again set out on HMS Furusund and headed down to the wreck site of Äpplet, intent on documenting the hull through 3D filming. Already during the initial dives, sensational finds were made – divers discovered several wooden sculptures hiding behind the stern, including two large lions from the national coat of arms displayed on Äpplet’s transom. Next to the lions is a smaller, round sculpture in the shape of an apple, which would have been a kind of nameplate for the ship, formally known as Riksäpplet (“the Royal Apple”).
“I’ve been diving for more than 30 years and have never found a sculpture,” says Jim Hansson from Vrak. “To be part of finding the ones from Vasa’s sister ship Äpplet is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced!”
The finds are completely unique in their kind. No one would likely have thought that a retired, scuttled ship would have any sculptures remaining.
“To find Äpplet at all, and then realise that it was sunk with its sculptures still there, is something I never expected,” says Patrik Höglund, maritime archaeologist at Vrak.
The discovery will open many doors for new research that can help us understand how these sculptures were used as a symbolic language. It can already be said that the sculptures on Äpplet and Vasa show similarities as well as differences. On Äpplet, the archaeologists believe they have found the titan Atlas, which is not represented on Vasa.
“We have a really exciting and educational collaboration with Vrak,” says Peder Sjöholm, diving manager at HMS Furusund. “Of course, suddenly find a gaping lion staring back into the darkness down there tops my list during my professional life as a diver.”
The stern’s construction is partially preserved at the wreck site. This means it is now possible to understand the development in ship construction, from the unstable Vasa and attempts to find the right shape for a massive, heavily armed ship. The investigations reveal that Äpplet had both a higher stern and a different shape than Vasa, whose hull is not as wide and is narrower at the top of the poop deck. Details and differences in the construction of these two ships bring us much closer to the shipyard builders than before.
The navy’s involvement has been crucial in finding Äpplet. Much information was gathered during investigations of the ship, making it possible for the museum’s archaeologists to start creating a 3D model of the entire wreck site. And salvaging the finds from Äpplet cannot be ruled out either, though removing objects requires permission from the county administrative board. Äpplet will be a crucial find for studying the evolution of the massive ships during Sweden’s Age of Greatness.
“I’m thrilled to be working with Vrak,” says Ewa Skoog Haslum, rear admiral chief of the Swedish navy. “Besides helping people to better understand our maritime heritage, the collaboration has provided our divers with some great training. We’re developing our skills through this collaboration.”
In 1625, King Gustav II Adolf ordered the construction of two large warships – Vasa and Äpplet. The ships were built next to each other at Skeppsgården in central Stockholm. Barely a year after the sinking of Vasa in 1628, Äpplet was completed. When Sweden entered the 30-Years’ War in 1630, Äpplet was in the armada that shipped troops to Germany. The ship, which had been built wider than the Vasa for the sake of stability, served for 30 years before it was deliberately sunk in a strait at Vaxholm in 1659.
Within the research programme “The Forgotten Fleet” (a collaboration with Stockholm University, financed by Riksbankens jubileumsfond), maritime archaeologists from Vrak, together with the Swedish navy, have investigated the area at Vaxholm several times where Äpplet was presumed to have been sunk. In December 2021, a huge shipwreck was discovered, and after further investigations and sampling the following year, it was concluded that Äpplet had finally been found.
At the museum