No matter how many insane rapids you’ve kayaked or massive swells you’ve surfed, there’s one watery obstacle you may not want to mess with: the whirlpool. To us, the very word conjures up images of mythical adventurers being sucked into a black, hole-like void.
Though today’s most violent natural whirlpools, also known as maelstroms, may not actually be able to take down ships, they could pose a lot of danger to unaware swimmers or smaller boats.
Here are three of the world’s craziest natural whirlpools.
Norway’s Saltstraumen whirlpool is the king of all whirlpools: a churning vortex featuring the world’s strongest tidal current.
At its site, up to 400 million cubic meters of seawater fight their way through a 1.9-mile long and 490-foot wide passage every six hours. The area water reaches speeds of up to 25 mph and the resulting whirlpool is huge: up to 33 ft wide and 16 ft deep.
The Scandinavian Saltstraumen has been around for about three thousand years, located 6 miles southeast of the town of Bodø, which lies on a coastal stretch of Northern Norway, about a 90-minute flight from the country’s capital, Oslo.
If you are tempted to experience the power of the Saltstraumen firsthand, you can actually sign up for a guided diving tour. With the right safety precautions, the company that runs the tour claims “Diving in Saltstraumen is probably one of the most spectacular adventures you can have as a fun diver.”
Another churning Norwegian behemoth, the Moskstraumen, seems worthy of a lead role in a wolves-and-warriors Nordic fairy tale. The magnificent Moskstraumen reaches speeds of up to 17 mph, so it less muscle than the Saltstraumen, but infinitely more cultural clout.
Featured in classic 13th century Old Norse Edda poems, the Moskstraumen went on to captivate the imagination of painters and authors, including the legendary science fiction writer Jules Verne and the horror writer Edgar Allan Poe.
The Moskstraum served as the inspiration for Poe’s 1841 short story “A Descent into the Maelstrom,” which introduced the term “maelstrom” to the English language – a mash-up of the Dutch words “malen” (to “grind”) and “stroom” (“stream”).
The Moskstraumen appears at the end of Jules Verne’s timeless adventure, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and is mentioned in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. You could argue that the Moskstraumen is not just a stunning freak of nature, but a true wonder of the world.
Though America’s strongest presence on the whirlpool scene may have a misleading name, Old Sow is nearly as epic as its Norwegian counterparts, clocked reaching speeds of 17 mph and renowned for its ear-splitting roar and depth.
Apparently, to escape its clutches, you have to row upward.
You can make a date with the vertical vortex by heading to Passamaquoddy Bay, between the shores of Deer Island and Moose Island between New Brunswick and Maine.
Watch out for the eddies surrounding “the sty”, which are neatly known as “piglets.” Also keep an eye out for two other open water oddities: standing waves and upwellings.