To go on a boat trip and take a swim while you’re at it is a pretty common activity around the world, in the city of Piteå in Swedish Lapland as well. But here, just a hundred kilometres south of the polar circle, the considerably less common twist is that the boat trip happens in minus 20 degrees Celsius with an icebreaker that weighs in at 400 metric tons.
Boat trips in summer and early fall are a given part of life for the residents of Piteå, a city in the Bay of Botnia blessed with a rich archipelago. Northern Sweden and the Bay of Botnia in particular hosts many archipelagos with large islands covered by sand, stone and pine forests. Here we find picturesque places and areas where the great rivers that run from the mountains in the west meet the ocean.
In summer many tourists come to Piteå and the well-known resort Pite Havsbad to experience this. At the resort, often called the Riviera of the North, the camping site is filled with cottages, caravans and over ten thousand visitors, mainly from Norway and Sweden. For a municipality that usually has just over 40 000 residents, that is obviously a huge addition.
Are there any guests who’ve gone in wearing just underpants?
However, winter tourism at Pite Havsbad has grown over the years and boat trips have become the primary attraction. For the uninitiated it may sound contradictory that tourists flock to boat trips in the middle of winter, but in that contradiction lays the unique pull of the experience.
After a short walk we arrive at Pitsundskanalen, the mouth of the mighty river Piteälven. It meets the sea here after a 400-kilometre journey from Sulitelma glacier in Norway.
On the landing stands captain Thomas Wirén, a retired shipping company owner who’s dedicated over 40 years of his life to shipping. Few are able to match his knowledge of shipping in an arctic climate, since his company among other things played an important role in establishing the Norwegian oil industry in the North Sea.
Thomas takes us through the safety routines and welcomes everyone on board the Arctic Explorer, as the boat is called. Soon the great diesel engine of the icebreaker lets out a groan from below and the deck beneath our feet comes to life with a slightly massaging vibration. The obligatory smell of diesel oil that fills the air enhances the atmosphere considerably.