Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A traverse of the Corryvreckan: "Beware of the flood in a sudden calm preceded by several days of strong west winds."

Slack water after the Corryvreckan flood was at 16:10 on 19/04/2017. To give ourselves time to get to the west end of the Corryvreckan where the incoming swell would meet the flood tide we set off from Port nam Furm at 15:24.

As we rounded the headland at the north end of Jura we came across the Sea Leopard II tour boat from Craignish Cruises.  Her alert skipper immediately throttled back to reduce her wake. This was very appreciated as wake combines with the Corryvreckan currents to produce very irregular waves. Several times in the Corryvreckan I have had to battle against such wake waves from thrill seeking power boats. To be fair I have never met anything but courtesy from the professional tour boats. Anyway after a big wave of thanks to the Sea Leopard II we set on our way.

Ahead, our eyes were now drawn to the open sea. I was quite glad that neither Ian nor Mike seemed to notice the large standing waves to our right which were forming over the pinnacle in the fairway of the Corryvreckan where the whirlpool forms.

It had been very windy from the west until the early hours of the morning, so we approached the west end with some trepidation. The pilot books warn: "Beware of the flood in a sudden calm preceded by several days of strong west winds. On the last of the flood an overfall can form as the tide meets the swell and form a solid wall of water across the Gulf." However, all was calm as we made our way through the narrowest part of the Gulf but...

 ...as we caught sight of the first of the islands on the south shore, we met the first of a series of large large swells that were marching in against the outgoing tide.

At this point the flood tide was still running west at 6km/hour though out beyond the islands it appeared to be approaching slack water.

 We were approaching the gap between Aird Bhreacain and Buige rock (just to the NW of the 68 on the map) and where the water is shallower when all of a...

...breaking standing wave reared up right across the channel. The tide was carrying me towards it at 6km/hour and there was no way round so I just dug my paddles in to pick up some momentum. I got a face full of water but I was safely through. As I was then left trying to clear my flooded sinuses I have no idea whether the others had to face the same. It was now 16:08 just about bang on slack and we had got through the Corryvreckan! However, the tide had now turned and was now trying to push us back into the Corryvreckan. I had set a destination waypoint on my GPS and the velocity made good fell until it was reading -1.6km per hour. Time for a sharp exit!

George Orwell nearly came to grief here in 1947 with his son, nephew and niece when his motor dinghy got swamped. Fortunately the tide carried them onto Eilean Mor where they scrambled up the rocks. Some hours later a passing fishing boat  plucked them to safety.

 After 2.5km of somewhat strenuous paddling we arrived in the shelter of Bagh Uamh nan Giall. We had made it through the Corryvreckan. I have traversed the Corryvreckan many times E-W W-E on both the north and south shores, NW-SE, SW-NE and straight through the middle. I have no doubt that exiting the SW corner is the most committing though in 2008 Tony and I had a somewhat thrilling entrance, W-E on the north shore while the west going flood was still in full pelt.

On that occasion we took advantage of an east going eddy that runs along the Scarba shore on the flood. This eddy then swings out from the shore into the vortex that forms the whirlpool! Your breaking out skills need to be pretty sharp to avoid ending up in the whirlpool!

I have written extensively on the geography, history, mythology, and route planning of the Corryvreckan in previous posts which you can read here.


  1. Douglas, when you got to the part about the "breaking standing wave reared up", I gained a new appreciation for our "static" caravan...and a second glass of wine. :) Warm wishes.

    1. Duncan this Jura trip will be the basis of campfire stories for many years to come. With each telling the wave and our self judged "heroism" will grow in stature. :o)