This is about the ferry "Estonia". Back in 1994 Í was serving on a Finnish minelayer "Uusimaa". On one very stormy night in September, the 28th, we had docked in Hanko, the southernmost port in Finland. In the middle of the night the bored seaman on guard duty got a call from the navy command centre - a bunch of guys dug deep under our granite groundrock - wanting to talk to the officer in charge.

Not long after someone sounded the alarm to leave the port. Everyone thought it was just a drill, since the weather was simply godawful. Nevertheless, once the ropes had been pulled in, people realized that this was the real thing.

After we were on the way, we had a briefing. We were told that a passenger ferry carrying over 1000 passengers had sunk in the Gulf of Finland and everyone in the vicinity would assist in the rescue operation. We were also handed plastic bags in case of seasickness.

Personally I was lucky, since I'm immune to seasickess. But my comrades were not so lucky. Some of them puked, puked, puked and puked 'till they had nothing left and then they puked, puked and puked some more. Some of them laid in corners, complaining of being cold but unable to move at all.

In the end, the seas were too rough for us to pick anyone up. The most we could do was to point the rafts to the rescue helicopters who did the real work - some of the guys in those pulled just inhuman performances. Many people owe their lives to the surface rescue guys (pintapelastajat) in the helicopters. We, we had a very nice ramp on the back of our ship and very good cranes compared to the other ships, but still we had no hope of picking up the rafts. They would have been crushed against our ship if we had tried it. We did pick up one big dead guy a day later, who had clung onto a kid's lifevest and who was floating just under the surface. At the time, the water temperature was cold enough to kill everyone in 12 hours and most people 3-6 hours.

I also got to see how a steel cable more than an inch thick breaks - and that happened while we were still inside the harbor. In case you were wondering, there's a thing called a "grease rope" inside a steel cable, and that makes the cable to break somewhat gracefully (i.e. it doesn't take anyone's head off when it breaks).

If you're ever feeling like shit, just imagine yourself, in the middle of night, having just woken up, standing on the side of a ship sinking into the near-freezing water, with loud alarms blaring. Your life may suck, but, man, cold water sucks more than anything. Especially when there's a seaful of it and you're going into it very soon.