Maelstroms are turbulent, swirling vortexes within bodies of water. From novels to movies, their chaotic power has inspired literature and entertainment for hundreds of years. They exist all over the world from the frigid Arctic Circle to lava islands of Hawaii. This guide explores the most well-known maelstroms around the world.
The Moskstraumen (also called the Moskenstraumen or Lofoten Maelstrom) is the most famous maelstrom of them all. For over a thousand years, this maelstrom has had tales spun around its frightening currents. Edgar Allan Poe wrote of its terrors in A Decent into the Maelstrom, Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo sailed the Nautilus into its destructive grasp in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, and Captain Ahab swore to chase his whale around it in Moby Dick. It lies in northern Norway within the Norwegian sea. The maelstrom’s currents stretch five miles wide and are the strongest between July and August. Though the Moskstraumen is the most documented maelstrom, it is certainly not the strongest.
Just north of the fabled Moskstraumen is the Saltstraumen, the most powerful maelstrom in the world. The current is created when almost 400 million tonnes of sea rushes through the Skjerstad fjord with speeds up to 25 miles per hour. For more than two thousand years the maelstrom has thrashed between the Saltenfjord and the Skjerstadfjord. In addition to having the strongest tidal current, the Saltstraumen is also popular for its great supply of fish. The world record holding 50 pound coalfish was caught in these waters. Anglers can enjoy fishing safely from the shore or on a deep-sea fishing charter boat.
Between two islands off the west coast of Scotland lies the third largest maelstrom in the world, the Corryvreckan. The Royal Navy dubbed the maelstrom unnavigable and the roar of the waters can be heard from 10 miles away. The Corryvreckan is made as water rushes over the rare underwater landscape in the seabed below. A chasm 200 meters deep and a high pinnacle force the waters into a vortex. English writer George Orwell nearly drowned in its grasp in 1947. The maelstrom formed unexpectedly and his boat fell apart. When the Corryvreckan receded he was marooned on an nearby island and had to be rescued by passing fishermen.
In the Western Hemisphere, Old Sow is the largest tidal whirlpool. It appears between Canada and Main in the Western Passage of Passamaquoddy Bay. Like the Corryvreckan, Old Sow is formed due to unusual underwater typography. A trench 400 feet deep and a near 300 foot undersea mountain create obstacles for 40 billion cubic feet of water to swirl around. The maelstrom is said to be named for the pig-like sounds that spill forth from its churning depths. The smaller whirlpools that form around it are known as piglets.
Among all of the devastating natural forces, maelstroms can be the most predictable and easiest to enjoy. They can often be seen from bridges and the banks of the straights they rage between. Many places also have boats that venture near enough to the maelstroms for safe viewing. Maelstroms are often formed twice a day during the changes of the tides and can easily be written into a tourist’s list of things to see. If ever you have the chance, don’t pass over an opportunity to witness the brutal spiraling waters of a maelstrom.