Corryvreckan Whirlpool

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The smiles after making it across from Jura to Scarba

The Gulf of Corryvreckan is a body of water that separates the islands of Jura and Scarba off the west coast of Scotland. Most bodies of water are quite tame, but this one is famous for its treacherous whirlpool, which is the third largest whirlpool on the planet. When the spring tide runs, this whirlpool can be heard up to 10km away, and boats are advised to stay away.It is the place where George Orwell almost drowned as he was writing 1984.

A link to an article about the area:-

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_of_Corryvreckan

Here is a link to a video of a boat trip through the area  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoOdnqODHNs

It has been a dream of mine to swim this body of water, and in July 2017, I organised a trip for 30 intrepid adventurers from Wild West Swimmers to do just that. Now, a swim can only be done on this trip when the tide is slack, at either high or low water. The actual swim is quite short at around 1.3 km, but the maximum window is about 45 minutes.

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A pod of swimmers starting out at Jura at the start of their swim

I had hired a local boat captained by Duncan, who had been taken swimmers across this gulf for around 15 years. He has forgotten more about this area of the coast than most people will ever learn. As soon as I stepped on board, it was obvious that he knew his trade, and I felt quite safe. There were 10 swimmers on our journey that morning, with another ten to follow in the afternoon, and the last ten the next day.

We set out from the village of Craobh Haven early on the Saturday morning, with clouds trying their best to hide the sun from us, and with a fresh breeze keeping us cool. Two of our group, had opted for a two-way swim, while the rest of us decided on a one way. Of the eight doing the one way, two of us were doing it in skins (including me). We changed on the boat on the short 30 minute journey out to the Gulf, and waited for the water to slow, as the second safety boat checked out the conditions, and we listened to the safety briefing. The two-way swimmers Vince and Alistair jumped in and they were off.

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A minke whale passing us as we swam across

We watched them head out on their challenge, and then it was our turn to jump in . The water was quite cool around 13c, but I could only think of the swim ahead. Off we went, with Tony leading the way. The water was not still, and it reminded me off my younger days of swimming off the beaches of Australia, and it was great to have that feeling again. I soon settled into my familiar pattern, and was enjoying the swim, keeping an eye on Scarba ahead of us, and the boat to make sure we were heading roughly in the right general direction. We were all so absorbed, that none of us saw the whale that swam near us (the passengers and crew on the boat saw it).

Now one of the things about this swim is that you swim in an arc, because that it is the way the water moves. We were pushed to our right as we started but as we got closer to Scarba, the water flow reversed and we started to head left. The trick is to make sure you compensate for this at the start, as you do not want to get too close to the whirlpool. The closer we got to Scarba, the more we could feel the gently rise and fall of the ocean swells, a feeling I had not experienced for a long time. Soon we had finished in around 25 minutes of swimming, and as we climbed back on board the smiles on everyone faces were huge. The two-way swimmers also managed to go across and back, a huge achievement.

 

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The boat, the swimmers, and goal achieved

A short ride back to the marina, and then off to the pub for a lunch and a whisky or two to celebrate our swim. I even managed to catch a game of AFL from Sydney on the tv. That night we all celebrated at our campsite, sharing yarns about swimming through the maelstrom. More than one person asked me if I was going to organise another trip next year, and with a twinkle in my eye I said maybe, as this was wild swimming at its best, with strange currents, salt water, sea creatures, legends, and superb company.

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Jura is the island on the left, Scarba on the right, with the Gulf in-between

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