Some school days are simply better than others. Last Thursday English Class fifth graders undoubtedly experienced one of the all time best school days of their lives when they visited the exotic island of Säppi which has been declared part of the Bay of Bothnia National Park. The fifth graders and two teachers, Ms. Katri and Ms. Sylvia, rode to the island in two separate groups on a fishing boat called the Merina. Fish scales and a pretty intense fishy smell added to the excitement and special atmosphere.
Once on the island we knew right away that we were in a unique place. At the end of a wooden planked path the first group spotted highland cattle grazing not far from the lighthouse. The cattle quickly headed for the woods to continue their grazing in relative peace.
Climbing to the top of the lighthouse was first on the agenda. The view was stunning. There were differences of opinion as to how many steps there were, but the consensus was that there were between 130 and 140 steps in all. The lighthouse was originally built of bricks. However, when the brick tower began swaying, about 30 cm of concrete were added to the outside to keep it all together in one piece.
Grilling sausage and eating our packed lunches was next on the agenda. Ms. Katri showed off her extremely masterful fire-building skills and the sausages were cooked to perfection.
We didn’t see any of the elusive moufflon that live on the island, but we did find a set of horns (upper right in the photo collage above) in the rafters of the open air kitchen. We were privileged to have Heikki Helle tell us about the history of the lighthouse and island. Heikki started spending his summers on Säppi back in the 1950’s when he was 8 years old. Heikki told us that the lighthouse beacon was originally fueled by rapeseed oil, then in the early 1900’s that fuel source was changed to petrol. A lighthouse keeper lived on the island with his family, taking 12 hour shifts with a couple of other men living on the island. Their work also included taking weather related measurements such as wind speed, wave height, the sea level height, and temperature. This information was called in to the mainland for use in national radio weather reports. In the 1960’s the lighthouse beacon became automated and was then fueled by acetylene gas. Wind generators provided power for the lighthouse for a a few years in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, after which the beacon was outfitted to work solely on solar energy.
After hearing the history of the lighthouse, we set off to explore Alfred’s Nature Trail, a one and a half kilometre path through alder copses, meadows and salt marsh areas. At this time of year the groves looked almost enchanted and it would be no stretch of the imagination to see a gnome or fairy pop out from a mossy hillock somewhere.
We wandered off the nature trail to follow the coastline for a while. A brisk north wind brought waves to dash and crash along the rocky shoals. The sound was powerful and energizing.
Not only were our fifth graders swept up in the wonder and grandeur of it all, Ms. Katri and Ms. Sylvia both basked in the sunshine and soaked up the sights, smells and sounds of this glorious place.
Because the waters surrounding Säppi are so full of submerged rocks there have been many shipwrecks over the years. Just a few of the shipwrecks are marked on the map. Imagine the joy of some of the fifth grade boys when they found the knee from a ship. (Knees , according to Wikipedia, are natural or cut, curved pieces of wood. and are a common form of bracing in boat/ship building.) Max decided to use the piece of rope he had also found along the shore to take the 5 kg+ knee back to the dock so he could take it home as a souvenir of Säppi. So, with a little help from Jakub and John, the boys lugged, dragged and carried their ship’s knee over a rock studded meadow, a cattle poop plop mined meadow, a path strewn with roots, a mud mired bog and finally across glacier smoothed bedrock. (Click the map to enlarge it.)
The picture above looks quite serene, but actually there was a brisk wind blowing and as the afternoon progressed, the wind picked up to 11 metres/sec. directly from the north.
Heikki, our guide on Säppi, kindly provided us with a tarp to sit on and hold over our heads as we headed back to the mainland. Waves were 1,7 m. high on average with occasional waves being well over 2 m. high! Our fifth graders were a happy crew who looked upon the rocking and rolling wet return journey as wonderful lark. “This is lots better than any amusement park ride!” laughed one red cheeked pupil.