EASTPORT, Maine — The U.S. Coast Guard, with the help of Halifax Search and Rescue and a private boater, rescued a Canadian recreational diver Monday who drifted from his partner and ended up in the Old Sow.
“They were right in it,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Cameron McCabe said Tuesday.
The Old Sow is the Western Hemisphere’s largest whirlpool. When conditions are right, it can open a hole in the sea 40 feet deep in a swirling area hundreds of feet wide. The Old Sow and smaller surrounding whirlpools, or “piglets,” can create navigational hazards.
On Monday, McCabe said, the tide was coming in and caused the diver to drift from his original dive site, which was just off the tip of Deer Island Point, near the lighthouse.
Deer Island is in New Brunswick, just over a mile from the U.S. Coast Guard station at Eastport. The area of Old Sow whirlpool lies directly between the two locations.
Kevin Steeves, 34, of Quispamsis, New Brunswick, was “recreational diving” with a partner early Monday when the two became separated. The partner notified Halifax Regional Search and Rescue, a volunteer group based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which called the U.S. Coast Guard in Eastport.
The partner stood off Deer Island Point waving a flag to get the Coast Guard’s attention, according to McCabe.
The partner described Steeves’ diving gear, which included an all-weather diving suit and an identifiable orange streamer.
McCabe said Steeves was quickly located and pulled aboard a private vessel that had launched from Canada.
“He was not suffering from hypothermia, but was suffering from sheer exhaustion,” McCabe said.
Steeves was taken to Deer Island, where he refused medical treatment by Coast Guard responders and was left with Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
McCabe said it was the first rescue “as long as I can remember” in the whirlpool.
The Old Sow is caused by fierce seawater currents running through Passamaquoddy Bay. The whirlpool is created when the regular flood tide, which can rise to 22 feet high and flows northerly up the bay, and a similar tide that flows from the west, between Deer Island and Indian Island, rush into the confined Western Passage of Passamaquoddy Bay at right angles.
Local legend has it that the Old Sow has been blamed for at least a dozen deaths, along with dozens of sunken or wrecked vessels, in past years. The last two recorded deaths were in 1912 and 1943, according to information provided by Deer Island Point Park.
The most powerful system of whirlpools in the world is the Moskstraumen, or Maelstrom, near the Lofoten archipelago in Norway. Three other large whirlpools are located at Saltstraumen, Norway; Corryvreckan, Scotland; and Naruto, Japan.