Dermott Brereton's journey to the top of the earth took him to frozen Bothnian Bay near Kemi, the gateway of Finnish Lapland. It's at the mouth of the River Kemijoki and the crew rugged up like never before to scoot across the ice.
They were transferred by snowmobile to the Sampo Arctic icebreaker, which worked hard for around 30 years clearing a path through harsh frozen waters. Retirement came about because Sampo became too small. As cargo ships increased in size, Sampo's path was no longer wide enough for them.
After retirement, she was bought by the Finnish maritime administration to work in tourism. She takes fascinated passengers through the frigid waters she knows so well between December and April. Ice is at its thickest in March. It's believed she's the only Arctic icebreaker that accepts passengers.
On his tour of Sampo, Dermott met the highly trained crew, all equipped to handle any condition they may encounter, such as a sudden snowstorm. They are all educators of the Arctic. For them, survival in nature is purely a fact of life in a place where nature is unpredictable.
Mild to fair weather can change into a raging blizzard at a moment's notice. Temperatures in mid-winter may fall to nearly -40°C. Late winter temperatures can exceed 20°C in the sun, in the midst of an icy landscape.
Dermott met the captain of the 75m-long vessel. He explained that for a ship to be classified as an icebreaker, it requires three traits lacking in most ships: a strengthened hull, an ice-clearing shape and the power to push through ice-covered waters. Sampo fits the bill, weighing in at a hefty 3500 tonnes. It reaches 16 knots, but generally travels at eight knots while crashing her way through 50cm thick ice. She has tackled it as thick as 120cm. It's slow going and could take several hours to cover 100m.
Sampo cruises along the main shipping channel, through small clumps of ice, before pushing through virgin slabs of ice 20 minutes after leaving port.
Believe it or not, you can jump into the water. You are zipped into an oversized and thick survival suit and slide into the freezing waters of the gulf. Just as he was ready for some hot food and a drink, Dermott was convinced to give it a go and joined around 30 other passengers in the black water. He said it wasn't that cold, but he wouldn't choose to be floating out there for any length of time.
Kemi in northern Finland, a 90-minute flight from Helsinki.
Bentours Winter Lapland's Ultimate Arctic Adventure seven-day tours coast $2405 per person, twin share. Transfers, daily breakfast, one lunch, one dinner, tour escort, accommodation in four-star hotels and a glass igloo and four-hour icebreaker safari are included. Tours in 2012 are scheduled for January 15, February 12, March 11 and April 1.
Emirates has flights to Finland and 26 other European destinations via Dubai from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. For an exclusive Getaway viewer's discount log on to www.emirates.com/getaway.
Prices correct at May 26, 2011.
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