Employed by humans across the world and throughout history, thermal therapy is heralded as a proven way to relax and rejuvenate. Whether its a steam sauna, infrared, hot spring, or cold plunge, immersing the body in varying temperatures is an age-old wellness practice that, among other benefits, is said to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and aid in pain management.
Today, "contrast therapy" has been whole-heartedly embraced in North America, evidenced further by a recently opened 34-foot-wide, 148-foot-long, 1 million-pound barge in the inner harbor of Victoria, B.C. that features two stories of saunas, cold plunge tubs, and hot tubs. Called HAVN, the project is inspired by public Nordic saunas, where spa-goers spend hours amongst amenities both as a wellness and community activity.
Founded by designer and entrepreneur Nick Van Buren with business partner Kurtis Vallee, HAVN started as a pipe dream after Van Buren successfully built a floating sauna aboard a 30-foot sailboat in 2019, called the Steam Mystic. A year later, inspired by a visit to an Ontario-spa, Van Buren dreamed approximately 8,400 square feet bigger when thoughts of an entire floating sauna barge germinated.
After teaming up with an investor in 2020, Van Buren and Vallee went in search of vessel. At that time, the shipping industry was also experiencing higher costs and acquiring a ship started to look impossible. Just as Van Buren was ready to give up, a retiring mariner called with good news—he's selling everything. Van Buren went to take a look at the goods and found the future HAVN barge—a 1943, two-story vessel used in WWII in remarkably good shape. After acquiring permits to dock in Victoria's harbor and transporting the boat from Seattle, Van Buren started building HAVN in August 2022.
Now, after almost a year of construction, HAVN is open to guests, with tickets ranging from a $75 three-hour stay to a $650 10-visit punchcard. Either ticket gains guest access to all amenities, which includes the three saunas, two cold pools, two hot tubs, changing rooms, outdoor showers, and lounge areas located on the top deck. On the story below, where guests enter, there's a reception desk and retail boutique.
The top deck is built largely out of cedar driftwood, which was salvaged off the Northeast coast of Vancouver Island using a fishing trawler. The wood was used for siding, sauna interiors, window trim, and ship railings—giving the whole experience a cedarwood aroma. The saunas themselves differ in temperature and humidity, varying from a hot, dry pine-scented sauna to a spacious sauna at a lower temperature where guests can move or stretch. Afterwards, guests can use the cold-plunge tubs, which are kept around 45°F.
The wellness experience is completed with lush native foliage, planted strategically to afford guests privacy as they take in views of the surrounding harbor. To further protect guests and immerse them in the experience, HAVN is cell-phone free.
There are plans to build out the remaining space in the barge as an event space for yoga, weddings, or concerts, but for now, HAVN is focusing on welcoming their first guests.