Into the Maelstrom

The Wild Swimming Brothers

After the Swim the Eden expedition the brothers kept getting asked what they had planned for their next adventure. Robbie had returned to his Berlin gallery, in preparation for his new exhibition, Calum returned to the Lidos of London and a new role at Eventbrite, while Jack was holed up in his study in Newcastle, ready to put pen to paper for a short story. However, after a few days slobbing on the sofa, buried in Netflix marathons, the brothers could feel the lure of the world map. Soon they started to think seriously about what their next challenge could be.

Excited, the brothers started spinning the globe, pouring over charts, maps and frantically researching possible swims. They wanted to do something on a bigger, global scale – something that slightly terrified them, in order to really push themselves and inspire others to get outside and embark on their own challenges. With that in mind Calum dreamed-up the Into the Maelstrom expedition, on behalf of WWF-Norge, and in a short space of time it was suddenly agreed that they were all heading to Norway.

Into the Maelstrom became a world first attempt to swim across the two biggest and most powerful whirlpools in the world: the mighty Moskstraumen and Saltstraumen in Norway. Swirling violently off the Norwegian coast, above the Arctic Circle, on the edge of the Lofoten Islands, these two vast whirlpools possess the strongest and fastest tidal currents in the world. Made famous by Edgar Allan Poe’s A Descent into the Maelstrom, featured in the climax of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, when Captain Nemo’s submarine, the Nebuchadnezzar, is sucked under the waves and also feared by Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. They are truly the stuff of literary legend.

No one had ever attempted either of these swims before, which meant the brothers were truly heading into uncharted waters. They knew early on that this would be their greatest challenge yet and the biggest test of their brotherhood. Currents aside, they would also have to contend with the freezing cold water of the Arctic Circle, as well as over 600 killer whales rumoured to be roaming the region and the infamous lions mane jellyfish, capable of growing bigger than a human. The very real prospect of a large black shape appearing beneath them was frightening to say the least, although it was important to remember that there are hitherto zero reported orca attacks on humans in the wild.

Of course, the brothers already had a little whirlpool swimming experience, having swum the Corryvreckan (third largest whirlpool in the world) in July 2015. They’d also swum the full ninety-mile length of the River Eden for their Swim the Eden expedition that same year. They’d completed the Corryvreckan swim in twenty-two minutes. Fewer than one-hundred people have ever completed this swim (more people have been into space) and it is the only whirlpool that has ever been swum. In some ways they were prepared, in others they had absolutely no idea what to expect…

Photo: The Wild Swimming Brothers

The Saltstraumen swim was a rapid sprint across a 0.25km tidal split with the worlds fastest whirlpool funnelling up to 400,000,000 cubic metres of swirling seawater through a 3km long and 250-metre wide strait every six hours. Within this frantic wash of currents the water can reach speeds of up to 22 knots (41 km/h25 mph).

The brothers completed this swim in a frenetic 10-minute window, dodging ominous red jellyfish and contending with vagaries of bubbling pressure that threw them into meandering courses. Nevertheless, they made it to the other side, under the supervision of their loyal team. In doing so, they became the first people to swim across the second biggest whirlpool in the world. As it turned out the margin between success and dreadful failure had been less than one minute, with the current suddenly turning a moment after they made it safely into the boat. Swimming through that mysterious vortex was an experience none of them would ever forget. There was no way they could have made it without their companions and crew: Luke, Beth, James, Dave and ship captain Knut Westvig of Stella Polaris.

The brothers would also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who supported them from home. It means everything to them that people still enjoy their adventures and take the time to let them know that they’re swimming (both literally and figuratively) with them.

The second and final swim took the brothers across the merciless Mosktraumen. It was an 8km point-to-point crossing between the islands of Vaeroy and Mosken. Along the way, the brothers had to overcome the largest whirlpool in the world, with a central whorl sometimes spanning a diameter of some 40–50 meters (130–160 ft) and fierce tides that combine the northerly Norwegian Sea currents and storm-induced flow, resulting in currents of up to 10.7 knots (20 km/h, 12 mph).

It brings the Wild Swimming Brothers a great sense of pride to say, finally, that they made it across the Moskstraumen in 2.31 hours and became the first people to have made that unforgivable 8km crossing. Together they survived and prospered in the most massive maelstrom in the world. Granted, the Norse weather gods had been kind to them and despite the odd powerful current they were blessed with arctic waters that were glassy smooth, for most of the swim. However, the brothers did have to quell the ongoing fear of killer whales, which had been seen in the maelstrom six days earlier, as well as dodging hordes of warbling lions mane jellyfish – not to mention the numbing, icy water of the Arctic Circle.

“The sea is everything. It covers seven-tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and life-giving. It is an immense desert place where man is never lonely, for he senses the weaving of creation on every hand... For the sea is itself nothing but love and emotion. It is the Living Infinite... ”

Words : Robbie & Calum Hudson  (@wild_hudson)
Pictures : The Hudson Brothers  (@C_T_Hudson)