Saturday, November 21, 2009

Showdown with a goat in the Corryvreckan!

We entered the Corryvreckan in somewhat calmer circumstances than our last visit. Even in windless conditions the flood was bubbling and boiling like a witch's cauldron. The sight and sound of such a huge volume of water rushing by at 18km/hour was quite moving, in fact Phil later described it as a buttock clenching experience.

We took the counter eddy (that runs east along the south shore of Scarba) right into the heart of the Corryvreckan until we came to the headland before Camus nam Bairneach. The eddy ended at a small headland and swung out into the main flow where it joined the rotating mass of water which forms the whirlpool. I said “Phil you need to get round this headland so paddle quite hard and don’t look back.”

The best chart for discovering the various eddies is the 1856 Admiralty chart.

The headland is in the bottom middle of this photo taken from high on the slopes of Scarba. Here the eddy (calmer water in lower right in the photo) swings out into the main flood (which is flowing to the right) where it joins in a great swirl that creates the whirlpools of the Corryvreckan. To get round this headland into the shelter of the bay you do need to paddle quite hard for 150 metres. If you can't PLF and get round the headland, you are in for a very special treat. The eddy will carry you right into the whirlpool and the Great Race beyond, so you can get a really close look at this natural wonder. Make the most of this experience but just don't expect to be able to share it with others afterwards.

We got round the headland and landed in a little bay to wait for the flood to ease off. We took this territorial goat by surprise, it clearly was not used to having its privacy invaded during the flood! The smelly brute squared up to us and stood his ground but his harem of females all ran off up the hill. Ultimately he found them more attractive than a confrontation with us and he made a measured retreat.

We had to drag the boats well up the beach... seething surges of tidal water threatened to whisk them away into the jaws of the ‘vreckan.

Tony took some photos from the headland, which we had recently fought our way round.

This is the Corryvrekan on a windless day. In a westerly gale the standing waves reach 5m in height and can be heard in Crinan 13km away. Fortunately for Phil, this is just about as calm as it gets.

While Tony was taking photos, Phil was content to sit and gaze in wonder. I think he was still a bit shaken after our confrontation with a goat!

P.S. Please remember that the Corryvreckan is a very large and serious tide race. It is in a remote location and, if you do get into trouble, it will carry you straight out into the open Atlantic for 5 miles before the Great Race subsides. Mike Murray knows a great deal of the Corryvreckan and how unpredictable it can be. A visit to his website should leave you under no illusions about the seriousness of this paddle. Another website well worth a visit is David Philip's Hebridean Wild. His gallery contains many photos of the Corryvreckan such as this one, which is enough to send a chill through any kayaker's heart.

John F asks: "Okay, so how bad would it be if one were swept through the whirlpool? If you had to hang on to your boat, do you think you could keep your head above water? Don't know if I want to find out, first hand."

Well John, a recent TV documentary about the Corryvreckan called Lethal Seas featured an interesting experiment. A weighted dummy wearing a life jacket was dumped into the sea just before the Corryvreckan whirlpool. It disappeared within moments. It was recovered several miles out to sea half an hour later. A dive meter showed that it had been down to at least 200m and the dummy's life jacket had gravel in its pockets and straps.


  1. John f - U.S.A.22/11/2009, 04:56

    Okay, so how bad would it be if one were swept through the whirlpool? If you had to hang on to your boat, do you think you could keep your head above water? Don't know if I want to find out, first hand.

  2. Hi, I am following your blog with great interrest. Nice waters you are padling. I was in Lofoten Norway this summer an had a great time. If you like see my blog, have a look: Brgds Niels Erik from Norway

  3. john f - U.S.A.23/11/2009, 02:45

    The mental image of the dummy getting dragged along the bottom gets the point across. PLF is right!!

    No wonder is hasn't has shown up on any T.I.T.S.-type videos.

    Thanks for all the great info, photos and trips!

  4. Thank you for your comments John. I met a very experienced kayaking "legend" at one of the symposia. He is well known for exploits at other UK tide races. He told me about a trip to "DO" the Corryvreckan whirlpool. He said once he got there, he was deeply impressed by the scale and seriousness of the place and was quite content to observe from a distance!

    Greetings Niels, of course, the Lofoten Islands are not just stunning scenically, they also have a tidal maelstrom.

    I like your blog :o)

  5. Holy Bloody Cow! The fact that the test dummy with pfd was sucked down 200 meters is just mind boggling. Navigating the area around the Corryvrecken by sea kayak is just a bit above my skill level. Thanks very much for the information on this natural wonder.

  6. Hello Joe, it does lead to an understanding of tide tables and tidal flows!