Reporter, pictures: Tomi Hinkkanen – Oakland, CA

Banker Tea “Tiu” Tuominen took a year off and paid hersef silly to race around the world on a sailboat.

Clipper Race is the world’s longest ocean race. Ten 68 foot yachts race 40,000 miles around the world in a course of one year. There are approximately 450 participants – many of whom are just regular folks without a sailing background. There are three Finns among the sailors. Their boat is called Visit Finland.

Clippers at Oakland harbor

I meet Tiu at the Oakland small boat harbor just as the racers are getting ready to continue their arduous journey. Helsinki-born Tea “Tiu” Tuominen, 39, is a successful banker based in London. She is not new to adventure. Her work in a private equity firm recently took her to Ghana, Africa, where she helped secure financing for small and medium-sized businesses. She heard about the clipper race from friends. Last Summer Tiu married another banker, the British Rupert Melsom. They originally planned to sail together on the same boat.

Tea “Tiu” Tuominen at the Oakland harbor

“Originally the idea was to sail on the same boat, but the clipper organization was of the opinion that it is not healthy for a relationship, nor fair to other people on board,” Tiu explains.

So, it was decided that they would race on separate boats. Tiu is sailing on Visit Finland and Rupert on a Dutch boat called De Lage Landen.

They had been on a couple of test runs on two different sailboats. Other than that, neither had previous sailing experience. But before they journey could begin, they had to participate in a month-long training program and pay the admission to participate in the race – 43,000 pounds (66,500 dollars), each to the Clipper Organization.

Rupert Melsom and Tea “Tiu” Tuominen on a stopover in San Francisco

The race started on July 31st, 2011 in Southampton, England.

“We had a huge departure ceremony. The British aircraft carrier Illustrious followed us. Helicopters and the media were buzzing around. At that point, I said to myself, wow!”

Tea “Tiu” Tuominen and the boat medic Carter Croft

Tiu shares the small yacht with 17 other crew members. Space is tight and privacy minimal. There are two lavatories on board that are separated from the cabin only by a curtain. Each crew member is only allowed 20 kilos (44 pounds), of personal items. They all have a small bunk bed. Some other yachts are even more cramped . They have to resort to “hot bunking”, meaning that two people share the same bunk, sleeping there in turns.

British captain Oliver Osborne helms Visit Finland on her around the world voyage.

The first stopover was in Madeira, where they stayed for three days. Then it was onto Rio De Janeiro. It took them 25 days to cross the Atlantic to Brazil. Just as they were about to dock in Rio, one of the three Finns on board Visit Finland, Riikka Puustinen, slipped and fell on deck, breaking her wrist. She had to leave the race for the next to legs but later on returned to continue the race.

Riikka Puustinen had to withdraw from the clipper race for two legs due to wrist injury.

Then they sailed to Cape Town. The Finnish ambassador to South Africa threw a dinner party for the Finns. The journey then continued to Australia, New Zealand and China. The longest leg of the entire voyage was the crossing from China to the West Coast of the U.S. It was also the most arduous part of the whole trip.

Tiu points to a spot in California on the map where she was at the time of the interview.

“During the 30-day crossing we only had two days of sunshine. Most of the time the sea was stormy, so we sailed only with small sails. It also took its emotional toll. No sun, it was cold, wet, and clothing or anything else never dried. Most of the crew were sick at some point. Only two people, a medic Carter and I were spared from disease.”

Helming a clipper during a storm takes a lot of physical strength.

“The cold dampness went to the bones. We do not have any form of heating on board. Other boats have electric heaters and air conditioners. We decided to do without them.,” Tiu adds.

It all paid off when they finally saw a familiar landmark in the distance.

“Sailing under the Golden Gate bridge was absolutely incredible. It was one of the best and most memorable events I have ever experienced in my life.”

Clippers arriving in San Francisco under the Golden gate bridge

Life on board is anything but a leisure cruise. This is a competition, so the crew has to sail as fast as possible 24/7.

“We have two guard shifts – four hours at night and six hours during day. When one shift is sailing, the other is asleep.”

So the crew members sleep twice a day, three, four hours at a time.

Tiu shows her bunkbed on board the clipper Visit Finland.

“It has gone surprisingly well. Prior to the start of the trip I was pretty worried, wondered how it would work. Iif one counts the hours, we get quite enough sleep.”

Tiu does admit that being awakened to do a shift is anything but pleasant.

“It hurts, especially in the middle of the night. It is wet, cold, you have just fallen asleep and warmed up. Then someone will wake up and you have 20 minutes to put up to five layers of clothing on. Must put the wet clothes on. Cannot be late, that wouldn’t be fair to the others. Outside it’s raining and it is cold.”

Life onboard is no picnick – the crew has to sail as fast as possible 24/7.

On the deck the task is to sail as efficiently as possible.

“We must always ensure that we have the right sail plan. The sails are changed according to wind.  When the wind is on the increase, we must change to smaller sails. When the wind is reduced, they have to be replaced with larger sails. All the time we are trying to get maximum speed out of the boat.”


Derrick Bikea, Tea Tuominen and Nigel Jenkins on board Visit Finland

Sailing is brutal mental and physical work.

“In the beginning people are not necessarily in top physical shape, but as the race goes on your physique gets stronger and your weight drops.”

Everybody participates in steering of the boat.

“It would be too tiresome for only one or two people to steer the boat. I was especially hard during this last leg in the high waves and wind. Steering requires quite a lot of muscle power. It is physically hard. That is why people have to take turns. It raises your self-confidence and helps you get over your fears. On our boat, we have a lot of people who are good drivers. The waves sweep over the boat and whoever is at the helm will get just soaked. You are certainly quite frozen, when finally the watch ends and you get back inside. You will fall asleep right away”


Tiu at the helm of Visit Finland – steering the boat in a storm is arduous work.

Eating and drinking on a boat also differs from meals at home.

“We do not have any fresh food – no meat, fish, vegetables. The sea is full of fish, but we go too fast to fish. There is a water-engine which converts the seawater for drinking water. It’s really good, clean-tasting and cold when it comes to the sea. On tropical sections of the trip, it is warm.”


Galley of Visit Finland is stocked with non-perishables, water is converted salt water from the ocean.

They don’t have showers on the boat, but occasionally crew members are treated to nature’s own shower.

“We have shower gel on deck in case of tropical rain showers. When it rains we, wash in the rain, which is often hard. It is a great luxury for us.”

The starry night sky on high seas looks awesome. Tiu has also seen a lot of nature and sea creatures on the long sea journey.

Visit Finland clipper docked at the Oakland harbor

“There are lots of dolphins. We have seen as quite a lot of whales in the South Sea and the South Atlantic . We have seen their water spouts and whales have dived from under our boat. Once one big dark-gray whale came beside the boat, lifted its head and looked at us curiously. In the middle of the South Sea there were albatrosses. Sea is always full of life.”

Tea “Tiu” Tuominen, captain Oliver Osborne, medic Carter Croft and another Finn, Thomas Linblom in the cabin of Visit Finland

Personal chemistry has worked well among crew members.

“It has gone surprisingly well. Everyone understands, that one must have patience and tolerance towards others. Quite a few – myself included – have learned a lot about tolerance and to give people the time and understand them. In bad moments, you need support from others. You also learn to support others.”


Tiu with husband Rupert in San Francisco. The couple has to spend long periods of time apart.

Tiu admits that trip has taken its toll on her marriage, even though the spouses are traveling on separate boats.

“Yes, because we are separated from each other for so long, and see each other only on stopovers. On the other hand, it has been a good thing in the sense that we have been able to share this experience together. The experience is kind of the same on both. We can support each other better.”


Clipper race around the world has been a transformative experience to Tiu.

All in all, the race around the world has been a life changing experience for Tiu.

“Such an experience is just an incredibly valuable. I believe that in my future work, this experience will bear fruit. I can look back on this experience and get power, ideas and inspiration . You can cope with anything, as long as you  have faith in yourself and others. It gets you far.

Therefore, when the sailors arrive in Southampton this Summer, a different Tiu will return from this trip than the one who embarked on it.

“I believe so. A better, improved Tiu.”

Visit Finland is cheduled to arrive in Southampton, England in July 2012.



The Finnish Hub


Downtown LA

The young(ish) generation has taken matters into its own hands in bringing together the area Finns. We met at the Publix Pub in the lovely Los Feliz section of town on April third. About 20 people attended. I spoke at length with two young men, Jussi Tuomi and Roope Olenius. They are studying acting at the New York Film Academy, which, despite of its name, is located right here in Universal City. Jussi wants to specialize in comedies and Roope has been active in his music in addition to acting. They invited me to their school’s showcase. It was held at the Acme Theatre in Hollywood to a packed house. Jussi had the questionable pleasure of being the first one on stage. He performed a humorous soliloquy with a blow-up doll! That’s right, a blow-up doll. I think Jussi is on the right track with his comedy acting – he definitely has a knack for it. A few scenes later it was Roope’s turn. His outing was also a humorous one. This was a two man scene about one guy kissing the other’s girlfriend. One has to admire the dedication and courage of these young men – it takes a lot to go on stage in front of everybody and put oneself out there. The next meeting of the Finnish Hub will take place at the Consul General Kirsti Westphalen’s residence in Bel Air on May first. For more information: http://www.facebook.com/events/209166585866390/


Consul general Kirsti Westphalen will host a Finnish hub at her residence in Bel Air May first.

Dumpster diving

Did you know that about 20% of all food goes to waste in the U.S.? One of the common mistakes people make is to throw away food items because the “best before” or “sell by” dates have expired. That doesn’t mean that the item is inedible or dangerous to your health. The date is merely an arbitrary estimate and varies greatly from manufacturer to another. So, I decided to go and check out, what treasures can be found in local supermarket dumpsters. I teamed up with a group called the Los Angeles Dumpster Diving Meet Up Group.

Dumpster diving in progress.

One dark Saturday night we gathered at the Highland Park light rail station. There were ten people altogether – artists, a film editor, a psychiatrist, an office manager and other professionals, even a tourist couple from Holland. We hit dumpsters of two big supermarket chains. And no, we were not digging for food amidst used coffee grinds, cigarette butts and apple cores. Supermarkets pack all items to be disposed neatly into black garbage bags. Oftentimes they are separated by category – fruits and vegetables in one bag, meat products in another, etc. What I found out was that supermarket garbage containers are very well protected. They are locked behind gates and tall fences, with guards occasionally making their rounds on the parking lot. Fortunately the organizers of our dumpster diving tour had a ladder. You wouldn’t believe what we found: Perfectly good bananas, eggs, all kinds of fruits and vegetables, pastries and much more. At the end of the trip, the members divided the loot amongst each other. We estimated there was at least 200 dollars worth of food there. There are of course lots of poor people in this country who actually go hungry each day and do dumpster diving out of necessity. Our group did not consist of those people. They were there to carry on a lifestyle that opposes wasteful living and throwing away good food. These are the same kind of people who diligently recycle, drive a hybrid car and act mindful of the nature and their surroundings. It was an eye opening trip indeed. As an animal owner, very little in our household goes to waste anyway – there is always a little mouth somewhere ready to eat any leftovers or scraps. But after this trip I promise to be even more aware of what I have in my refrigerator, so that everything is utilized and no food thrown away.

Supermarkets throw away perfectly good food. The dumpster diving expedition was a success.

Are you a cell phone jerk?

It shakes, beeps, rings, blinks and demands attention like a cranky baby. The smart phone has taken a possession of people’s body, mind, soul and every single spare moment. Who would have thought a few years ago that a small gadget like that would enamor people so entirely and thoroughly, that they would forsake anything else just to play with it. And I’m not only talking about children or  teens – even adults are in love with the gadget.

A smart phone has become ubiquitous.

Linux creator Linus Torvalds predicted it to me 15 years earlier in an interview. He said that soon people will be carrying mini computers in their pockets. Right he was. I have spent a lot of time on the UCLA campus lately. It is amusing to observe a twenty something student exiting a building. One, two, three. On the third step, the cell phone inevitably comes out the pocket. One guy with large headphones was skillfully skateboarding on campus, doing tricks and talking with his buddy on the phone all at the same time, without missing a beat. Another time, two people, lost in the cyber world, actually stumbled into each other head on. It is funny when they are walking, less so when driving. I can’t believe my eyes in the traffic these days. Just about every fourth driver is checking their smart phone at the traffic lights – some even while actually driving. The fact that it is unlawful doesn’t deter them at all, so strong is the pull of that little gadget. It hooks, captures, mesmerizes, entertains, excites and stimulates. Recently I actually had to change lanes to avoid a collision with an oncoming car, because the driver was engaged with the cell phone. The young woman behind the wheel was texting or perhaps updating her Facebook page. As the road curved, she did not notice but started to veer onto my lane. It was only because of my quick maneuvering, that we avoided a head on collision. The young lady continued her driving with a smile on her face, blissfully ignorant of having come so close to a what no doubt, would have been a serious accident. According to statistics, about 5,000 people a year die as a result of distracted driving in the United States. I suspect those numbers are going to go way up, as the cell phone continues to take a hold of people’s psyche. The emergence of the smart phone has also changed the dynamics of friendships and relationships. If there’s a group of three or more people gathered together, you can be sure that at least one of them is immersed in their phone. The incoming email or text message is more important than the person standing next to them. I recently witnessed four women having lunch at the Westfield Century City Shopping Center. Instead of communicating with each other, everyone was deeply involved with their own gadget. The smart phone has robbed us of people’s undivided attention, of all the fun going to town to observe people. There’s nothing to observe any more these days, nobody’s paying attention to their surroundings, everybody is on the gadget. A romantic dinner or a movie night is hardly the same, when instead of gazing into each other’s eyes, both participants are hypnotized by the glare of their gadget. The check out girl or boy at the supermarket is no longer your casual acquaintance – the customer these days is too busy texting while the transaction is going on. I am not against new technology. It can be helpful and beneficial in many ways. What I oppose is totally abandoning good manners and common sense in favor of the uncontrollable urge to use this technology. For too many people, having a smart phone is like giving a drink to an alcoholic — one wants to drink the whole bottle. There is a time and a place to use your phone – and plenty of times and places when NOT to use it. Google has come up with internet eye glasses that allow you to access your phone and the net with voice commands. Silicon Valley is also working on internet contact lenses. I can hardly wait – as if it is not bad enough already. As for myself, after desperately clinging on to my old dumb phone, I finally got a smart phone as a gift. I am very grateful, but intend to use it responsibly and mostly keep it in my pocket. I want to continue enjoying the real world and the people in it. I don’t want to become a cell phone jerk.

Eki Mikkonen of Tours International America is using the phone to connect with his clients.

A nightmare hotel

Last week I visited the bay area. It is always a pleasure to go there, especially in the spring time, when nature in Northern California is at its most spectacular. This time I was staying in Oakland, across the bay from San Francisco. I had booked a room in advance at the Jack London Inn for two nights.

A view from my hotel room in Oakland

After a six hour drive, I was quite worn out as I arrived at my hotel. The girl at the front desk handed me a key card. I took the elevator up to my room. An unwelcome surprise waited for me beyond the door. There was only a mattress on the bed – no pillows, sheets, blankets, nothing. And no toiletries in the bathroom either. Back downstairs the girl handed me a key card to another room. Again, lugging my luggage upstairs, I went to the appropriate door and swiped the card once, twice, three times – nothing. The door wouldn’t open. Back downstairs a manager came along with me to test the door. It wouldn’t open for him either. Both the girl at the desk and the manager seemed quite resigned to the fact that they did not have a room for me after all. “What about that first room,” I said. “How long would it take for you to fix that?” They looked at each other, as if it was a novel idea. So, I sat and waited, waited and waited. An hour went by. Finally my room was almost ready. As I entered it, a man inside fixing it explained that he doesn’t normally do rooms. I held my tongue. Finally the room was done and I was able to go to sleep. At one o’clock in the morning I was suddenly awoken by a knock on the door. “Hotel security, this room is supposed to be empty.” I peaked through the peep hole. He looked the part with a flashlight and all. I told him that the room is occupied – by me – and to check with the front desk. As I didn’t hear back from him, I assume he finally got that sorted out. That night the only thing that occasionally woke me up was a thunderstorm that the newscasters next day said to have been the biggest to hit the area in 30 years. The following day I was busy doing interviews in the nearby waterfront, where I was covering an around the world clipper race. The boats were docked at that marina. Then helicopters appeared in the sky. They started to hover above my hotel just a hundred yards away. The block was cordoned off with a yellow crime tape. I asked a policeman what was going on. He said that a man wanted by the police had run into the hotel and barricaded himself  in one of the rooms. Fortunately I didn’t need to get in all day, as I was continuing to work at the harbor. When the day was over, the crime tape and the police were gone. The girl at the front desk told me that the man had attempted to get away by dressing as a woman. It did not work and the police arrested him. The front desk girl was kind enough to let me keep my car parked on their lot after my two nights were up, so that I was able to take a ferry to San Francisco on my last day instead of  having to try to find parking in Frisco.

Sea lions sunbathing and frolicking at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf

That ferry ride by the way is the best bargain in town – 13 dollars will buy you a round trip ticket – a half an hour each way. Just the scenery is worth it. Staying in a hotel that doesn’t have its act together is not, no matter how low the price.

San Francisco skyline as captured from the ferry