I can only describe a cruise on board the Icebreaker Sampo in Kemi, Finland as one of the most unique experiences of my lifetime! We got to set sail on an icebreaker, see it smash through the frozen sea with its brute force. And if that wasn’t enough, we also jumped into the freezing waters!
Now that doesn’t sound like an ordinary cruise, does it?
The Sampo Icebreaker began its industrious career back in 1961. Back then it was employed by the Finnish government in Helsinki to clear lanes for other ships during the polar winter months when the sea froze. However, by the 1980’s ships became bigger, and bigger. Soon, the lanes cleared by Sampo weren’t wide enough for the ships to pass through. Sadly, Sampo had to be retired.
However, in 1987 the town of Kemi bought Sampo from the National Board of Navigation. And in 1988, Sampo began its new career in tourism. Today, Sampo operates to carry tourists from Kemi. It is probably the only icebreaker for tourists!
There are a couple of cruise options to choose from on the Sampo – Arctic Sunrise, Blue Moment, and the Aurora Cruise. We took the Arctic Sunrise cruise in January, when the entire Gulf of Bothnia was frozen solid.
Our Experience On Icebreaker Sampo
Our journey began at 6 AM on a freezing winter morning. The cruise sent a bus to pick us up from our hotel (we stayed at the Cumulus). Along the way, we stopped at more hotels to pick up other fellow cruisers.
The Icebreaker Sampo sets sail from a port 12 kms outside Kemi. Before we got onto the ship, we were assigned groups and each group was provided a guide. Once on board the icebreaker, we were ushered into the ship’s dining room. The Arctic Sunrise cruise included a pretty sumptuous breakfast.
After breakfast, our guide gave us a brief history of Sampo, and took us for a tour of the ship. The tour included a visit to the ship’s engine room, control room, and communications room. All the equipment on the ship hasn’t been changed since it was built in the 1960’s. Unfortunately, our tour excluded the captain’s deck because of the weather conditions; the captain requested to not be disturbed.
Once our tour completed we had an hour to ourselves. Many of us decided to bare the freezing cold, and stood outside to observe the raw power of the mighty Sampo. The icebreaker smashed through ice as it made it way further into the frozen sea. That in itself was one of the most unique sights.
But soon the icebreaker came to a halt in the middle of nowhere, and the side ladder descended. That was our cue to head down to the changing room for the main event. We’d come all this way to float in the frozen sea!
Float In The Frozen Sea
Once in the changing room, the crew helped everyone slip into a life-preserver suit. These bright red suits covered us from head to toe, with only our faces exposed. These suits are designed to withstand the freezing cold, and can protect the wearer for about 6 hours. They are also designed to float.
Before I knew it, I was inside one of these life-preserver suits, making my way down the side ladder.
And there I was, standing on top of a frozen sea! I was surrounded by water, yet I could stand on it.
The crew stood at the edge of the frozen sea, next to the water that had been exposed by the icebreaker. They were there to help us get in and out of the water.
I remember as I sat down on the edge of the ice, I looked up to one of the crew members and said, “I have no idea what to expect!”. He smiled and told me to just relax as he pushed me into the water. The next thing I knew, I was floating in the sea right next to the Icebreaker Sampo. It honestly was one of the more thrilling, and exhilarating experiences!
The Icebreaker Sampo is one of the most surreal experiences in the world. We got to sail on an icebreaker, smash through a frozen sea, and then jump into the water in -16°C (3.2°F)! If you love adventure, there is no way that you can afford to miss this opportunity of a lifetime. How many time will you ride on an icebreaker? Stand on a frozen sea? Or even swim in a frozen sea?
If pictures & words don’t convince you, maybe this video will.
Subscribe to my YouTube channel
When we returned to land, we were all handed out certificates with our names on them. I thought that was a nice touch.
For someone like me, who is not a fan of the sea, I was surprised at how safe and comfortable I felt throughout the journey. You don’t need to know how to swim to jump into the sea. In fact, it’s not obligatory to even jump into the water. But I would highly advise that you do it. It’s completely safe, and absolutely incredible!
Should you stay at Kemi or Rovaniemi?
There are frequent trains that run between Rovaniemi and Kemi, and cover the distance in over an hour. The cruise’s bus also makes a stop at Kemi Station to pick up passengers. So, it is possible to stay in Rovaniemi and go on the Sampo. However, since our cruise was an early morning cruise, we decided to stay the night in Kemi. You can go through our extensive Finland itinerary to decide for yourself.