A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.
Sometimes it is who you know, rather than what you know, that opens doors and opportunities and Clare had a friend had a contact in the Finnish Embassy. A message came via this link asking:
We are celebrating a hundred years since independence this year: how would you like to travel on a government icebreaker?
As the sea is a natural draw for Clare; his Down to the Sea in Ships travelling with the modern container ships was a quality piece of travel writing about a system that most people are blissfully unaware of, he jumped at the opportunity and booked his flight.
Most people know Finland from the Nokia 3310 phones that almost everyone used to own, the completely mad rally drivers and the not so talkative F1 star, Kimi Räikkönen. The Finnish are a fiercely independent nation celebrating 100 years of independence from Russia who have a liberated modern life. Part of their character is sisu, it is this combination of grit and determination that helped them to fight off the Soviet invasion in World War II. Their spirit has driven them politically too, they were one of the earliest countries to allow women to vote, have a first class health system and are experimenting with the universal basic income for their population.
As much as Clare is here to gain a little insight into the national character of the Finn’s he is really here for the ice. During the long dark winters there, the Bay of Bothnia is frozen and the Otso, the ship he has been invited to join, assist cargo vessels getting through the sea ice to and from the port. The 99-meter long Otso is one of the most sophisticated icebreakers around. The specialist paint and stainless steel hull combined with air bubbling system, means it almost never gets stuck, it has almost 360-degree vision from the bridge and the highly trained crew can manoeuvre this powerful 9000-tonne ship to within feet of another to break them out of the ice. There are even two saunas on board for the officers and crew.
This world of ice in the Arctic Ocean may not be around forever, given how the world is warming in the far north. As with all his other books, it is full of nuanced observation and is a delight to read. He writes of smelling the sharpness of the ice, the clarity of the light as it reflects and sparkles in the weak sun and you can imagine the noise as the frozen sea succumbs to the power of the ship. If this had one fault, it was too short, but then Clare only had ten days travelling and he relishes every moment with the crew in this white world.