Taylors in Finland

The Grand Adventure

Mary Ann's Fulbright Exchange to Oulu, Finland
August 2001 - June 2002

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15 March 2002, Friday
Sunrise/sunset 0639/1816
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 information.

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 board.

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 home.


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David Heintz starts his own photographic record. (3115)

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The crowd watches as we leave Kemi harbor. (3117)

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The mess deck on the Sampo. (3120)

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The Sampo begins to break new ice. (3123)

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David watching the action from the bow. (3128)

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Ice breaking under the bow of the Sampo. (DH03)

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Another shot of the ice cracking under the bow. (3133)

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The bridge of the Sampo, quiet except for the tourists. (3143)

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The snow mobile parking lot - time for survival suit swim. (3151)

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John suited up for a dip in the Gulf. (Sampo04)

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David gives me the "I'm OK" sign. (Sampo06)

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John floating next to the hull. (Sampo07)

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Looking up at the stern of the Sampo from the Gulf of Bothnia. (Sampo10)

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Swimmers off the stern. (DH06)

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David checking out the bow of the Sampo as it rests on the ice. (3163)

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Trusty Volvo wagon waits to take us back to Oulu. (3169)

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Lori at the house after we picked her up at the train station in Oulu. (3172)

Photos DH## courtesy of David Heintz. Thank you.

Last Update 2001 11 18

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