While visiting Kemi, Finland in the northern part of the country, I had an opportunity to go on an extraordinary excursion…the Sampo Icebreaker cruise. The Sampo is the only icebreaker in the world dedicated as a tourist attraction. This mighty icebreaker takes passengers around the northern Gulf of Bothnia (part of the Baltic Sea) out of Finnish Lapland. After serving for thirty years in demanding Arctic waters, the vessel has been given a new task—to provide an unforgettable experience for winter enthusiasts!
Once on board the Icebreaker, passengers are given a presentation of the ship and a guided tour takes you to the massive engine room, as well as the bridge. After getting acquainted with the ship, a three-course meal is served in the ship’s cozy galley. During my cruise, I had a creamy salmon soup for the first course. The entree was a fillet of beef with vegetables and blue cheese potatoes mixed with a red wine sauce. For dessert, we had a chocolate parfait served with choice of coffee or tea.
Before and after lunch are great opportunities to head toward the bow or sides of the ship to witness the Sampo work her way through the thick ice. The ice conditions are extraordinary to observe and vary greatly in texture (as the ice is broken and frozen back in place). While I was in Finland, the weather was unseasonably warm (right around freezing, about 20 degrees above normal) and thus the water took longer to freeze back together after the icebreaker had carved a path—the warm weather condition caused the ice to pile up in areas, creating large mounds on the surface of the frozen water. It was such a unique experience to look ahead and see nothing but solid ocean surface, then look below and see the ship breaking the ice to create a path. The tour teaches you how the icebreaker functions, as well as its role at sea. The cruise is as educational, as it is fascinating. I found myself peering over the edge of the ship just observing the blocks of ice float by after the ship had cleared its path…I was mesmerized, like one becomes when looking into a camp fire.
As a member of the media, I am very fortunate to be offered special treatment on occasion. During my cruise on the Sampo, I noticed a boom with a bucket at the bow of the ship—I then recalled a colleague who’d been on the cruise a few days prior, tell me that he was able to go inside the bucket and be lowered over the side of the ship for some extraordinary photos. So, I asked the captain if it would be possible for me to get inside with my tripod and video camera, and to my delight, he happily obligated. If the entire cruise were not exciting enough, the chance to be hoisted over the side of the vessel to get close-up footage of the ship breaking ice right at the hull level, certainly elevated the excitement. It was simply amazing! After several minutes over the edge, I was raised high above the ship getting almost an aerial view. As the boom continued to rise, I was now level with the bridge deck where the captain waved at me…it was a surreal moment. If you watch my video in this post, you will see some of the great footage I was able to capture. [I have to extend a big thank you to Captain Petter Tähtinen and the Cruise Director, Oskar Van Ieperen for accommodating me as they did.]
Before we returned to port, the ship stopped for about an hour to allow passengers (who wanted to take part) a chance to don an arctic dry-suit and jump into the frozen waters. This was just an amazing experience…here the ship is stopped in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by frozen sea and passengers are allowed to disembark and walk on the solid surface of water to take pictures. At the stern of the ship was an opening in the water for those in their dry-suits to jump in. I actually swam out a bit and played around with the huge chunks of ice. I was having so much fun I did not want to get out, but I also realized there were other people waiting. So, reluctantly I got out and got back aboard for the final journey back to port.
As the Sampo reached the dock and we all began to disembark, the ship’s Captain presented each passenger with a certificate. The four-hour Sampo Icebreaker cruise is something you have to put on your bucket list…it’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. If you’ve ever been on the Sampo, please leave a comment below and share your favorite aspects of the cruise.