Corryvreckan Whirlpool
Situated between the islands of Jura and Scarba on the west coast of Scotland, in full roar this whirlpool is so loud it can be heard almost ten miles away. It is possibly the most demanding dive in the UK
In Brief
Access: boat
Type: scenic/drift
Skill level:
Corryvreckan means ‘speckled cauldron’, although the area is locally known as the Cailleach, which is the name of the Celtic storm goddess. Considered unnavigable by the Royal Navy, the Gulf of Corryvreckan can have ripping currents of up to ten knots.

The whirlpool, which is on the northern side of the gulf, surrounds a pinnacle that rises from depths of 70m to 29m at its rounded top. Only highly skilled divers with considerable experience of tidal pinnacles should attempt this dive. In addition, decompression stops should be practised during fast drift dives in the weeks beforehand. The whirlpool should not be treated lightly, as even the most experienced divers can find themselves in trouble.

The area is currently being considered for Special Area of Conservation status. Minke whales and porpoises swim in the fast-moving waters and only the most resilient plants and corals thrive on the sea bed. The extraordinarily strong currents also mean that it’s essential to use a fast charter boat with a skipper who knows the pinnacle well.
Choose a day with a tidal range of just one metre at Oban, and arrive one hour before slack is expected. You’ll need a shot-line with two 25-litre buoys and a small tidal-stream indicator attached, and at least 25kg of shot. Keep watching the tide and wait: don’t drop the shot early or it’ll be swept off the pinnacle and you won’t have enough time to recover and reposition it before the tide turns.

As the tide starts to fall, the buoys will surface one after the other, and a good skipper will give you an estimate of how much time you have to get in the water. You should be fully kitted-up and ready to go well in advance.

The dive

Descend the shot-line, taking care not to dislodge it. Keep going until you reach the top of the pinnacle at 29m, where you’ll find an anchor on the smooth rock face. The anchor is covered in small hydroids and encrusting marine life, with the biggest barnacles you’ll ever see.

Visibility may be 20m but ten metres is more likely. The head of the pinnacle always seems gloomy and slightly spooky, as though you’ve arrived at the place uninvited – don’t be surprised if the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.

For a relatively simple dive, explore the holes created by massive boulders to the north-west of the pinnacle (at about 35m). Large enough to accommodate two divers, the holes have been worn bare of marine life by the football-sized stones that are swirled around with the tide. Crustaceans scuttle to and fro during slack – when they disappear, it’s time for you to go, too.

If you’re brave (or foolhardy) enough to want to take a look at the nearly sheer drop-off to the south and east of the pinnacle, do so at the beginning of the dive. When the tide turns, it’s here that the downward currents are at their most dangerous – they can take you down to 75m or more. There are many horror stories of divers being swept away, jackets fully inflated as they’re forced deeper.

When the tide does start to run, it’s imperative you leave the site. Bottom time can be as little as five minutes. Slack water may last for just a few moments and it’s only with a wealth of experience that you can judge this dive. Even with all the odds stacked in your favour – neap tides, flat waters, calm weather and well-disciplined divers – the pinnacle can still be undiveable.

Accommodation

Contact the Scottish Tourist Board in Oban. Tel: 01631 563122

Charter boats

Porpoise Dive Charters, Seil Island, south-west of Oban. Tel: 01852 300203;
e-mail : ainsley@mcmail.com
Porpoise will take divers to the whirlpool only after staff have assessed their ability over a week of diving in the area. Even then, they may refuse to take you.

Decompression chamber

The Dunstaffnage Marine Laboratory in Oban. Tel: 01631 562244

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