15 March 2002, Friday
Hi/low 36°F/16°F (2°C/-9°C)
Sampo Icebreaker Cruise
The Sampo is described as a uniquely Finnish experience.
Although icebreakers are used by many countries, only Finland has one available for tourists.
Operated as a commercial icebreaker for thirty
years, it has “retired” to make day trips. Enough description of the
ship, you can view their website for more
David Heintz arrived by train Thursday evening
so we could get a good start the next morning; good thing we did. We got to Kemi and
discovered that the Sampo actually docks
in Ajos, about 6 Km from downtown Kemi.
We walked onboard at 1120 and sailed at 1130.
For me, it felt good to be on a ship again. I enjoyed being on the
ocean when I was in the
U.S. Coast Guard. I had
visited an icebreaker in 1968 when my ship, the
USCGC Taney, tied up in Kodiak, Alaska but I had never
sailed on one.
The ship left the dock and began its journey
out to sea (well, into the Gulf of Bothnia).
There was only a gentle forward motion, no
“rock and roll” of being at sea. First
of all, the weather was ideal. The
only wind was apparent, from the ship’s forward
motion. Plus, with the sea frozen,
if there had been any wind, it could not
cause any wave action to rock the boat.
We went below, found our table for lunch,
and relaxed with refreshments. I needed
some coffee to warm up my hands since they
had been uncovered to operate the cameras.
Below decks was noisy, not from the engines
but, from the ice scraping along the hull.
We were following a previous day’s track
and churning through broken ice (which looked like a frozen Daiquiri).
After thirty minutes, the ship pulled into
a previously-opened lead and slowed.
We went on deck as the engines dropped to
an idle. In the distance we could hear
and then spot a lot of snow mobiles headed
our way. The line of them turned a
little and we could make out each one.
They followed one another and parked about
fifty yards from the ship. The tour
group boarded, the gang plank was lifted
and off we continued sailing.
David and I went below since we were in the
first seating for lunch. The fixed
menu was mashed potatoes and reindeer with
berry sauce. Very traditional, very
good. As we ate the hull noise became
quieter. I stood up and looked out
the porthole. We were “cutting” our
own trail across the open ice (open seems
like the wrong word since it is frozen shut!).
We went on deck and you could see clean white
ice in front of us, as we made a new path one hundred meters away
from yesterday’s track. If you leaned
over the bow you could see the ice disappear
under the bow as we sailed along. Leaning
over the railing, about twenty feet from the bow, you
could see the ship ride over the ice so the weight of the ship could break
the it. Slow, steady
and smooth. Look up and it was blue
sky to the horizon.
Our tour of the bridge, engine room and control room ended up in the stern
where it would normally be “officers’ country” in the service. I say engine
room but that is a misnomer. The engine room on the Sampo has four huge,
2,200 horsepower diesels which drive generators. The propulsion motors are electric
which may be reversed in six or less seconds, much easier on
everything if breaking heavy ice.
The tour ended at the stern, where the dressing
rooms are. All we needed to do was take off our jackets and shoes. You
step into a one-size-fits-all survival suit and the zipper comes up and
you are in. Boots and gloves are part of the suit. The only tight fit is
around your face, almost claustrophobic. You flop up the ladder, across
the main deck, down the gangplank and sit on the edge of the ice. I say
flop since the same suit is used whether you are two meters tall or only
1.5 meters tall. One petite woman was walking on the suit legs with the
feet flopping off to the side, like an orange-suited Charlie Chaplin.
The ship had returned to the ski mobile “parking lot”, maneuvered a bit
to create some open water at the stern and stopped after parking with the
bow secure on the ice. They help you slide off the ice and you float
away, bobbing like the proverbial cork. The water did not have a salty
taste. We paddled around for a few minutes, snapping some photos and being
snapped by others and then climbed out. Swimming next to the ship reminded
me of swimming in the Pacific
Ocean while in the Coast Guard; 1,000 miles from the nearest dry land,
3+ miles to the nearest land (straight down), warmer water, waves, swim shorts and
armed riflemen on shark watch.
After waddling back on board and changing
we went back onto the ice to watch the others,
take some photos and walk around the ship.
The tour group started to gather on the ice
near their snow mobiles so we went back on
As David and I were driving back to Oulunsalo we felt it was a great day,
definitely worth doing and recommending to anyone who comes this way.
We picked up Lori
at the Oulu train station and met Mary Ann at