"Like a cauldron on a great fire she would seethe up through all her troubled deeps and overhead the spray fell on the tops of the cliffs," said Homer of the mighty Charybdis. Ever since that ancient tale was told, the mystery and intrigue of the world's whirlpools have frightened the cautious and beckoned to the daring.
Although the whirlpools—the Corryvreckan in Scotland, the Moskstraumen and Saltstraumen in Norway, the Old Sow between New Brunswick and Maine, and the Naruto in Japan—are the products of natural occurrences such as strong currents, fierce winds and high tides, these phenomenas are not to be treated lightly. But with proper precautions, they can be visited and experienced safely. In fact, landlubbers can see the swirling waters of the Saltstraumen and Naruto whirlpools from bridges that span the straits. The best time to see any of them is when the weather is at its worst. Stormy seas heighten the effects of the currents, making the whirlpools even more spectacular.
If you're not up for a sail in a gale, in any given month tides are stronger when the moon is either new or full. And you'll find that in any given year, the tidal force is more powerful during the autumnal equinox, in late September. As it happens, notoriously vile gales also tend to occur at this time of year, so watch out. Warm and waterproof clothing is a must-have, and antidotes for seasickness are certainly advisable.
For your own odyssey, author Simon Winchester offers a compendium of lodging and dining experiences and other travel tips. Go forth, Odysseus.
The Corryvreckan Whirlpool, Scotland
Getting There The Corryvreckan is located between Scarba and Jura, two small islands off the coast of western Scotland. The best way to find it is to rent a car in Oban (Practical Car and Van Hire, tel. 011-44-1-63-157-0900) and head south on the Lochgilphead road A815. You'll cross the renowned ClachanBridge, or the Bridge Over the Atlantic, whose humped back has linked the Isle of Seil to the mainland since the 18th century. Continue island-hopping down to Luing via a half-hourly ferry, £5 (about $7).
Seeing the Whirlpool Swirling through what locals call the Cailleach (Old Hag in Gaelic) is best done with the guidance of an experienced boatman. Try Sea.fari Adventures (tel. 011-44-1-85-230-0003), which offers a two-hour journey for £180, about $250 (less if others come along). Luing boatman Lachie MacLachlan (tel. 011-44-1-85-231-4212) gives private tours, enriched with his own blend of captivating stories.
Don't Drink and Drown After your ride through the rapids, unwind at the Oban Distillery. Established in 1794, the distillery offers tours and tastings of its malt whiskeys. The address is Stafford Street, Oban, Argyllshire, PA34 5NH; tel. 011-44-1-63-157-2004.
Keep Your Pants On The Tigh an Truish (Gaelic for the House of the Trousers) was where Scottish islanders stopped to change into trousers from kilts, which were forbidden by the English on the mainland, before proceeding to town. Also known as the T'n'T, this combination inn and pub on the Isle of Seil, 14 miles south of Oban, offers both a comfortable room for two and excellent fresh food, including venison, salmon, and homegrown vegetables (tel. 011-44-1-85-230-0242).
Home of Big Brother In the 1940s, author George Orwell rented a home on the island of Jura, called Barnhill House. There, he wrote his acclaimed novel 1984 and also recovered from a near-death experience in the Corryvreckan. Today, Barnhill House is available for rent from £400 (about $565) per week from April through December and sleeps eight to nine people in five bedrooms. Contact Mrs. D. Fletcher, Easter Lennieston, Thornhill, Stirling FK8 3QP; tel. 011-44-1-78-685-0274.
The Saltstraumen Whirlpool, Norway
Getting There From Bodø, take highway Rv 17 and travel some 20 miles to the bridge over the strait between the islands of Straumøya and Knapplundøya.
Seeing the Whirlpool To hire a boat (about $50), contact Saltstraumen Fishing Camp (tel. 011-47-7-558-7138) or view the whirlpool without getting splashed at the Saltstraumen bridge. The nearby SaltstraumenAdventurePark (tel. 011-47-7-556-0655) offers whirlpool models, exhibits and multimedia shows about the history, culture and everyday life revolving around the Saltstraumen. There, nearby picnic spots and rambling trails offer views of the whirlpool. Consult local tide tables to plan the best time for a visit.
Sublime Extravagance Skagen Gaard (Skagen Farm) is one of the most exquisite small hotels in all of Scandinavia. In this perfectly preserved 19th-century farmhouse on the northern side of Straumøya, majestic dinners of dill-smoked salmon, marinated reindeer, and cloudberries-and-cream pie await you. Breakfasts of such scale and scope that they are wholly unforgettable greet eager visitors in the morning. The Danish husband-and-wife team who run the farmhouse have little use for electricity: candles, oil lamps and woodstoves serve for most of the light and heat, though they do use electricity for cooking. The experience, especially after a chill day on rough water, is sublime. Be prepared to pay about $150 a night. The address is Skagen Gaard, 8056 Saltstraumen, Norway; tel. 011-47-7-558-7590; fax 011-47-7-556-3145; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
You might also consider the Saltstraumen Hotel, which is located in Knapplund. Guests have the opportunity to gut their own catch from the whirlpool or have the chef prepare it. The SaltstraumenArtGallery is located in the same building (tel. 011-47-7558-7685).
Catch of the Day The local fishery known for its abundance of cod, saithe, wolfish and halibut offers anglers world-class opportunities, whether fishing from ship or shore. The World Championships in Saith Fishing are held here each year in June.
The Maelstrom (Moskstraumen) Whirlpool, Norway
Getting There From Bodø, a ferry leaves three times daily for a four hour crossing to Moskenes, but be forewarned the seas here are often very rough; $50 for car and passengers. From Moskenes, travel south to the tip of the island, where the town of Hell is located.
Seeing the Whirlpool Stig Olsson or another guide from Rafting Lofoten (tel. 011-47-7609-2000) will shuttle you directly to the Maelstrom for about $250. In his fishing boat Hellvåg, Oddlief Nilsen also takes visitors to the whirlpool (tel. 011-47-7-609-1595 or 7-609-2000; e-mail email@example.com).
Fishing Boat Trips Packaged excursions are arranged by the Flakstad and Moskenes Tourist Office (tel. 011-47-7609-1599). Passengers have the opportunity to ride through the Maelstrom, bird-watch, search for seals and whales, explore the 3,000-year-old cave paintings in RefsvikhulaCave, fish, and learn to prepare the day's catch in the traditional Lofoten manner.
One Fish, Two Fish Comfortable lodging in these towns can be secured in renovated fishermen's huts, or rorbus. Predominantly fishing towns, the villages on the Lofoten Islands also offer any number of excellent seafood restaurants, such as the comfortably rustic Mat og Vinbu in the settlement of Hamnøy.
Any Time Is Tee Time Feeling green after riding through the Maelstrom? Try hitting the green 24 hours a day at Lofoten Golf Course from late May to late August with the light of the midnight sun. The course offers six challenging holes in beautiful terrain (tel. 011-47-7-607-2002).
The Old Sow and "Piglets" Whirlpool, Canada/United States
Getting There The Old Sow is accessible from either Eastport, Maine, or Saint John, New Brunswick, you'll need to drive one hour to the free DeerIsland ferry, which operates every half-hour from dawn until 10:00 each night.
Seeing the Whirlpool For $135, boatman Trevor Kline (tel. 506-747-2023) will take you on a sojourn to the whirlpool itself, down into Eastport, and then out to sea again for two extra hours of watching the whales that cruise off the outer side of Campobello Island.
Rooms with ViewsThe Gardner House on DeerIsland, which overlooks the bay, is a quaint restaurant and bed and breakfast (tel. 506-747-2462). Deer Island Point Park campground (tel. 506-747-2423) also offers ocean views and glimpses of the Old Sow.
Where Are the Whales? Whale watching is a popular activity around DeerIsland. Inquire at Cline Marine (tel. 506-747-0114) and Lambert's Outer Island Tours (tel. 506-747-2426).
The Naruto Whirlpool, Japan
Getting There Flights depart regularly from Tokyo and other major airports to TokushimaAirport on the island of Shikoku. The small town of Naruto is about six miles northwest of Tokushima.
Seeing the Whirlpool Large sightseeing boats, some with underwater views, make 12 to 15 trips daily into the whirlpool. Adult fees range from ¥1,530 to ¥2,200 (about $12 to $17); tel. 011-81-088-687-0101. Or, try a small high-speed sightseeing boat. Every half-hour visitors can marvel at the whirlpool (¥1,500—about $12—for adults; tel. 011-81-088-687-0613). On land, you'll also have multiple vantage points: the NarutoSuspension Bridge, one of the longest suspension bridges in the world, spans the whirlpool 150 feet below. Stretching from the bridge is a pedestrian walkway with a glass-enclosed observation room; fee ¥500 (about $4), tel. 011-81-08-8-684-1167. Other viewing locations, such as Narutoyama and Senjojiki observation points, are located nearby.
Japanese Culture The Naruto Bridge Memorial Museum (tel. 011-81-088-687-1330) showcases interactive exhibits and films about the whirlpool and also dispenses tourism information for the area. There you'll find the Awaji Puppet Theater, which offers six daily performances.
Fooling Around In mid-August on the island of Shikoku, be sure to check out the festivities surrounding the traditional dance called Awa Odori, in which everyone is invited to join. For more information on the festival, contact the Tourist Association of Tokushima Prefecture (tel. 011-81-08-8-652-8777).