The whirlpool is a natural phenomenon much loved by myth-makers and authors. In novels by Jules Verne and Edgar Allen Poe whirlpools are capable of swallowing whole ships whole but in reality, whirlpools aren’t that powerful. Still, there are an awesome sight and there are a few places in the world where you can get close enough to observe them in action. They’re remote and hard to get to, but if you’re prepared for a bit of a hike check out our Top 10 Places to See Whirlpools.
10. Naruto, Japan
It’s just as well that whirlpools don’t actually swallow ships whole, because you can take a cruise along the Naruto Straight to see the whirlpools off the Shikoku coast of Japan. With typical Japanese whimsy, the boats are known as the “Aqua Eddy” and the “Wonder Naruto” – the Wonder is a large boat which gives great views of the whirlpools below. But if you don’t fancy taking your chances on a boat, you can also see them from the Uzu no Michi walkway, suspended below the Onaruto Bridge, which has windows in the base 45m above the pools. They only occur every 6 hours or so, and are bigger in summer than winter so it’s worth planning a visit for a time when the pools are going to be most dramatic!
9. Old Sow, USA/Canada
There’s something worrying about an tourist attraction that has a survivors’ club. Old Sow is a giant whirlpool that lies between the USA and Canada, near Deer Island, New Brunswick on the Canada side and Eastport, Maine on the American. It can be viewed from land from Deer Island, but “The Few, The Brave, The Swirled” can take a boat ride under supervision to the 76-m wide vortex and claim their certificate from the survivors’ club afterwards. And for those who are really interested, there are a number of other tidal features in the area, such as tidal bores and thunder holes, as well as some smaller whirlpools known as the “Piglets”. It’s hard to measure Old Sow herself, but it is reckoned to be the biggest whirlpool in the Western Hemisphere!
8. Moskstraumen, Norway
If you wondered where Edgar Allen Poe and Jules Verne got their inspiration from, you don’t need to look much further than this series of whirlpools in Lofoten, Norway. Both “A Descent into the Maelström” and “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” featured a whirlpool in the vicinity of Moskstraumen. The reason it became legendary is that it truly is a dangerous part of the sea, and visitors are advised not to try and fish the waters for themselves. It is also one of the only whirlpools to be out in the open sea, rather than in a strait or river and so it is one of the hardest to see. However, locals still take fishing boats out in the direction of Moskstraumen, and there are tourist “Adventure Boat” tours that go out there too, so it is possible to observe the legendary waters at close range. Probably not one for anyone who suffers with sea-sickness, thanks to the unpredictable nature of the waters!
7. Corryvreckan, Scotland
One whirlpool that does lie in a channel is the Corryvreckan whirlpool, between the islands of Jura and Scarba, off the coast of Scotland. The channel is defined as impossible to navigate by the Royal Navy, but that doesn’t stop wild swimmers and sailors trying to get close to it. As with other whirlpools, it varies in strength, with 10-knot currents occurring at times. It also has a literary connection, as author George Orwell wrote “1984” on Jura and had to be rescued from the whirlpool in 1947, after his boat got caught up in the whirling waters. If you fancy following in George’s footsteps, there are boat trips to see the pool, but it can also be spotted from the northern tip of Jura – probably the safest option, given how many sailors have drowned in the channel.
6. Charybdis, Italy
From a legendary whirlpool to a mythical one. Charybdis was a sea creature in Greek mythology, that lived in the Straits of Messina and devoured ships as they passed. Later on, the blame for the ship-devouring passed to a genuine whirlpool in the area, although the whirlpool is fairly mild and hasn’t been known to swallow any ships in recent memory. It is now known as Garofalo and can be seen from the coast of Sicily. It’s not the most dramatic whirlpool, but the mythology attached to it makes it an interesting place to visit for classics scholars. Just beware of sea monsters – even if you avoid Charybdis, there’s always the six-headed monster Skylla on the other side to do the devouring!