Every year, thousands of yachts owners head to warmer waters to escape the bitter cold of winter. But it seems that for some adventurous owners and charter guests, the balmy air of the Mediterranean and Caribbean no longer hold the same allure, and they are swapping palm trees for penguins in a quest for the ultimate sailing experience -- ice cruising.
Passengers aboard vessels equipped for ice navigation have the option to explore 'off-road' icy waters but Neil Cheston, Director of Yacht Sales and Charter at YCO Yacht explains that one of the reasons behind the rise in popularity of ice sailing is exclusivity.
"You could say that luxury has evolved to mean more than just expensive, the emphasis is also on exclusive. Our clients want to get off the beaten track, to discover something new that all their friends haven't seen and equally important, to find somewhere where they can be totally alone with friends and family," he says.
For Paul Ashton, Editor of SuperYacht World, ice sailing is all about the thrill and adventure.
He said: "The yacht is the ultimate getaway tool, and for some owners that means getting away from all those places that everyone else goes to. When you talk to an owner who cruises an explorer-style yacht you really get a sense of their thrill in anchoring in a bay which has rarely been visited by anything other than penguins and seals," explains Ashton.
However, boats that can navigate ice are not a new phenomenon. Scientists and navies have been making use of them for years, but the trend of building custom yachts to seek alternative cruising grounds has begun to gather speed, according to industry experts.
"Big Fish" is just one of this new breed of boats which are able to sail anywhere in the world. She is pitched as the 'ultimate adventure boat' with an ability to take her globe-trotting clients to any destination they desire, whether it's icy Antarctica or glamorous Monaco.
Chartering the super yacht will set you back $235,000-per-week, accommodating 10 guests in five cabins and the Arctic itinerary promises the possibility of sighting polar bears hunting for seals and walruses.
Built for Aquos Yachts by McMullen & Wing in New Zealand, its new owner sailed "Big Fish" to French Polynesia, the Galapagos Islands, the Cocos Islands, Rio, Florida, the Baltics, Monaco & Corsica in the first year alone. And of course, with an ice-adventurer boat, he spent New Year in Antarctica.
Another expedition boat which can explore every corner of the world, is "Galileo G" which took to the water in July 2011.
Designed by Philippe Briand, the 55-meter superyacht is constructed to ice-class classification guidelines. As usual with high-specification boats, the buyer's privacy is paramount to the boat makers, but it is thought that the owner plans to use it on the Northwest passage.
The most obvious design difference for an ice-breaking yacht is that the hull needs to be very strong, so "Galileo G" has an "ice-belt reinforcement to have the right thickness on the waterline," a spokeswoman for Vitruvius Yachts said.
"The yachts need to go through what is called pancake ice (that is ice that is one-year old) and all appendices need to be protected from impact as well as from freezing" she explained.
But there are also other less obvious considerations for the boat makers -- space for food and garbage storage is essential because they cannot dump anything in such highly protected areas. They also need to carry enough fuel to ensure that they don't need to re-fuel in the wilderness of Antarctica.