A Trip Through the Corryvrechan Whirlpools – By Marian Hutchinson

Our sailing trip through the eyes of my mother…

“Hold on! Hold on!” Joanna’s voice can just be heard above the pounding of the swell as Pantagruel’s bow rounds the crest of another wave and we brace ourselves for another drenching.

Looking at that video clip now I smile – did she seriously think we might consider not holding on?

On that morning Joanna, my daughter, was in command of Pantagruel, a 55ft, 97 year-old wooden yawl, which she and her partner Micha are about to sail around the world.

“You should come and join us in Scotland, mum.” Joanna’d said a couple of months earlier, “It will be a nice gentle sail – nothing too exciting.” This had seemed like a good idea – an induction in case I wanted to join them later in more far-flung destinations.

So there we were; 4 Brits, 3 Germans and 1 Austrian. We Brits had all done some sailing and loved the sea but were probably the least experienced sailors that week. Amongst the other crew members were some very competent sailors, who had studied the charts, thoroughly digested the kit list, and were fully equipped  for any eventuality.

In retrospect, I should have sensed when Joanna’d told us to put on our life vests, even though the sea seemed quite calm, that things were about to ‘get lively’.

Back to the morning of the video clip ……we Brits were taking a break from duties and enjoying the sunshine on the deck. As we passed round the binoculars  to admire the seals on the rocks, we caught sight of a line of white water in the distance.

Even then, we still hadn’t registered any cause for alarm. It was only when one of the other experienced crew members clipped herself to the handrail, that I began to suspect that we might be heading for some turbulence.

By then it was too late to head for cover and as luck would have it I’d just been passed the binoculars! It felt rather like pass the parcel when the music stopped, only instead of unwrapping a prize, I found myself almost thrown from my seat, clutching to the ‘bins’ for dear life and trying to hang on to anything fixed that I could find.

The next few minutes are a blur. I see images of my three unsuspecting compatriots; hugging the mast, battered by the towering waves, sunglasses askew and birkenstocks waterlogged.

I remember feeling my stomach lurch in the same way it had at the top of Loggers’ Leap in Thorpe Park, knowing that  the only way was down. The difference was that having nose-dived (bow-dived?) we were immediately to be engulfed by the next gigantic surge!

Looking now at the video clip (taken by one of the others from the comfort and safety of the cockpit) I feel a mixture of terror and pride. We had survived the Corryvrechan whirlpools (as I was later told) – one of the most challenging passages of sailing in the British Isles.


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