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Sailing the Arctic in fishing boat turned luxury spa

By George Webster for CNN
  • Converted 1950's trawler combines luxury bathing with spectacular views of Nordic coastline
  • "Vulkana" is the brainchild of Norwegian festival organizer Erlend Larsson
  • Larsson: boat's history attracts visitors
  • Finnish designer Sami Rintala was inspired by the ship's original shape

London, England (CNN) -- To the outside world she looks like an ordinary fishing boat. But you won't find nets and winches on this vessel.

Instead you'll be greeted by scented candles, silk robes and a shrine to the Hindu elephant God.

Welcome to "Vulkana," an old fishing trawler refashioned into a floating spa moored in Tromso, northern Norway. "Vulcana" offers arctic safaris along northern Norway's majestic coastline taking in the northern lights and other wonders of the Arctic Circle.

Below deck, what was once the storage hold for hauls of catfish, turbot and sardines, now houses a Hamam (traditional Turkish bath) and sauna with panoramic vistas out onto the open sea.

Up above, patrons can gaze heavenwards at the wonder of the northern lights or admire the midnight sun in the bubbling warmth of a hot tub. The adventurous can leap straight into the North Sea from a seven meter-high diving board.

Erlend Larsson, a festival organizer from Norway and co-owner of the "Vulkana," says that the idea came to him as he and a friend were unwinding before an end-of-festival party in the summer of 2007.

"We were just relaxing on this little boat, and then we thought how much more relaxing it would be if we built a sauna inside it," he told CNN.

"Then we thought if we have a sauna we might as well have a hot tub, and if we have a hot tub, we have to have a Hamam. One thing led to another, and we ended up with a 75-foot 1950s trawler!"

We were just relaxing on this little boat, and then we thought how much more relaxing it would be if we built a sauna inside it.
--Erlend Larsson

Since opening its doors to the public last year, the seafaring spa has welcomed all manner of guests onto its deck.

"This week we had 11 Italians," says Larson. "They spent five days using the boat to go skiing off-piste in the The Lyngen Alps [above the Arctic Circle].

"Just before that, a lawyer from London brought his family up in a private jet for two days, and then flew right back."

Although all this high-end bathing -- not to mention an onboard sushi chef (who Larson says is "the best in Scandinavia") -- account for much of the boat's allure, the 40-year-old meditation enthusiast believes there's something a little more transcendental about the whole experience.

"The style elements are just superficial," he said. "Maybe it sounds stupid, but there's something spiritual about the boat itself. It's had a long life, and many different owners, and all of them have said how safe and calm everybody feels onboard. This is something you can't achieve with stylish design, it's part of the boat's fabric."

While much of the ship's interior couldn't be more distinct from its outside appearance, the designer -- Finnish-born Sami Rintala -- was certainly inspired by its existing body.

"The hull was covered in this terrible aluminum," he explains. "But when we took it away we found the original wooden frame of the boat -- and it was just beautiful. The curving sides of the spa echo the vessel's exterior, so it sort of forms a boat within a boat."

Larson tells CNN that in the coming months "Vulkana" will have its own in-house yoga teacher. With summer on the horizon, what better way to get yourself ship shape?