Imagine a warship built during a period of immensely great power. It’s almost bristling with its 64 cannon and beautiful ornamentation as a sign of the king’s ambition. It took two years to build.

Then on the day of its maiden voyage, 10 August 1628, the mighty Vasa sank. It sank within swimming-distance of where it was launched. It wasn’t espionage or fired upon, it just simply tilted to one side and sank.

A scale model of the ship on display at the Vasa Museum.

Do you see anything out of the ordinary? No? Look again.

Vasa

Don’t feel bad if you can’t see anything wrong. Professional shipbuilders couldn’t either. Because Sweden was one of the most militarized states in history at the time, and almost all resources going towards war efforts so lots of people were brought in to build the Vasa.

Some of these people were Dutch, who had probably built ships for the Dutch East India Company and had a proven track record. It wasn’t so much that some of the builders were Dutch, it was more that they probably weren’t from the Rijnland – the area along the Oude Rijn.

If they were from the Rijnland, the warship would probably have sailed for many years and killed many of its enemies. So what made this area so special? In this context, only one thing – they had 12 inches to the foot just as the Swedes did, but many other areas used anywhere between 10 inches and 13 inches to the foot.

Judging from wreck it would seem that the Dutch shipbuilders came from Amsterdam, who used 11 inches to the foot.

The 12 inch foot would only be standardized later on when the Dutch East India Company would take the Rijnland foot to Cape Town, which passed into Brittish rule in 1859 and calibrated against the English Foot.

(note: image sources – here, here, and here)