Listen to the sound of ice blocks being crushed against the hull of the boat. Go for a walk on the frozen sea and enjoy a hot drink on the ice. Challenge the laws of nature in safe and comfortable conditions on the ice-classified vessel Arctic Explorer. The ice breaker safaris depart from Piteå. To find out more, visit pite-havsbad.se.
She introduces herself as Monica Gustafsson, a small business owner from Älvsbyn, a municipality neighbouring Piteå. She’s on the trip with her family and reveals this was her first time bathing in ice-covered waters.
How was it?
“It certainly was an experience, but it was also slightly unpleasant. I’m scared of deep waters and sharks,” Monica says with a laugh, well aware that the risk of shark attacks is strikingly low around here.
How is it to experience this kind of thing for someone like you who, unlike these tourists, is from the area?
“It was amazing to see the ice breaking ahead of the boat. It’s easy to become blind to experiences close to home, my family travels a lot but we don’t visit attractions in the region. We live not far from Storforsen, for example, yet we rarely go there,” Monica tells us.
Storforsen is the largest rapid in all of Europe that has been left untouched. It is part of the same river that we set out from, but located further upstream.
The group of tourists wandering on the ice is comprised of both families and larger travel groups. The sun is shining and the obligatory photos where people pose in front of the Arctic Explorer are being taken at a quick pace. Captain Thomas Wirén is enjoying the nice weather, just like his passengers.
For how long have you been involved in the icebreaker trips?
“Since 2004. This is our ten year anniversary,” Thomas reveals.
How is it to be the captain of this boat?
“It’s very social, and it’s fun to get to meet so much people from different parts of the world.”
You must have met your fair share of people over the years?
“Yes, many thousand! Usually we have around two thousand passengers per year; our record is three thousand,” says Thomas.
Is there a particular memory from all these trips that stands out?
“There was this Finnish lady a couple of years ago that asked if she could bathe in just her underwear, which we allowed. She dove in, got back up a while later and said ‘That was nice’ and everyone was just speechless. It turned out she was an experienced winter bather,” Thomas tells us.
What is the difference between an icebreaker and an ordinary boat?
“The prow has a very round shape, almost like an egg, and this one has a steel thickness of 20 millimetres.”
What is the maximum ice thickness it is able to break?
“Around 50 centimetres, and when it’s minus 20 degrees Celsius you have to go out at least every other day in order for the lane to stay open.”
The durability of the ice depends on many factors. Whether it’s solid or comprised of many layers, due to periods of shifting temperatures, is one such factor. Another one is whether or not there are air pockets or other elements making it weaker.
To be able to withstand great pressure, the ice doesn’t need to be all that thick. 50 centimetres of ice easily carries a truck. In other words the 400 metric tons of the Arctic Explorer come in handy when Captain Wirén wants to make his way through the ice.
When we’ve enjoyed the sun, and all the passengers hungry for the unique experience have had their opportunity to bathe, we retire to the restaurant aboard the boat to spend the journey back there. The spastic movements and the cracking sounds still make up the backdrop for our conversations, as we enjoy a fantastic fish soup. The restaurant is decorated in an elegant fashion, with a marine theme clearly present.
The rest of the journey home gives room for reflection and we all agree that it’s truly something special to be on a boat at sea. Of course, this shouldn’t be news to me as a resident in the area, but even so I will vividly remember the powerful experience of the Arctic Explorer ploughing through the thick ice of the Gulf of Botnia.
Photo curtesy of Marine Group.