Monday, February 28, 2011

Buoy Crazy


Maybe this isn't the best thing to admit in a post for a contest where the prize is a copy of a book called The Natural Navigator: A Watchful Explorer's Guide to a Nearly Forgotten Skill. Modern aids to navigation might well be part of why we have forgotten so much.

But I'm going to admit it anyways.

I'm buoy-crazy.

Oh, they can be cold sometimes.

And sometimes they'll go astray, they'll tell you sweet lies and break your hull and your heart (or at least leave you aground and awaiting the flood).

But mostly - what an invention.

They'll tell you where you're safe...

and where you need...

to mind your manners.
Goodbye Pelagos
Goodbye Pelagos

They have other important things to tell you, too, if you have the sense to pay attention -

With a quick glance at a buoy, you can know what the current is doing. Currents don't always do what the tide table says they are going to do.

But if I'm ever unsure, I'll ask a buoy. On that topic, usually, buoys don't lie.

Sometimes they tell you all's well -

Sometimes they'll tell you a story you don't want to hear, like --

"Sorry, lady, I don't care HOW many stars you have. You're not going out of that inlet today. Might as well pull out at the beach under the bridge, OK?".
From 5 Years Around Long Island - 2nd Year Day 1!

Sometimes a good straight answer is just what you need.

Buoys can be great memory-joggers, too. I like to take pictures of buoys on trips - if you got the charts (and I usually do),

- you will always be able to show someone exactly where you were.

They make very good crossing guides and gathering points for kayak tours. Channel crossings can be the most suspenseful moments on a trip - it's so much easier to organize your group if you can wait for a break in the traffic and then just point to good old Number 12 and say "Stay together, keep moving, and paddle to that red buoy over there". Even if you have a couple of hotdoggers who run, they're only going to run so far.

And when you find one where you thought you would when you're actually using your compass for real on a crossing in the fog for the first time in your entire paddling career, well, that's really pretty cool!

From 5 Years Around Long Island - Leg 1, Days 2 & 3

I like the simplicity of the buoy system - the way that a relatively small variety of markers (mostly red and green, with a few special ones sprinkled in here and there) makes floating roads of our coastal and inland waterways. Here's the basic rules from one of my Maptech charts:

Hey, want a good mnemonic for which is which? I got a great one last year, I think it was at a Power Squadron PaddleSmart event. I could usually remember green cans/red nuns, but always mixed up the numbers until I learned this memory device:

It's green, it's a can, and it's odd-numbered. I will never blow that question on a navigation quiz again! Cool, huh?

Kayaking, you don't see that much of the road on the water - just a few "blocks" for most of us. But I used to work on the schooner Adirondack.
After the sails are off
After the sails are off

I loved working on that boat. The Adirondack is beautiful, fast, and easy to sail by design. She was built specifically for the business of taking people out for a nice cruise around New York Harbor, and she's great for that - very safe, but with a little cooperation from the wind, we could give our passengers as exciting a sail as they seemed to be up for - or not so exciting, if they weren't. I loved taking people out and introducing them to the harbor - but the trips I think I miss the most are the delivery trips to the Scarano boatyard in the fall. We'd spend the night before on the boat, setting out before sunrise. We'd sail for a while if we could, and then we'd get to work on the first steps of derigging for the winter.

We would take turns driving and keeping watch, and there was always something I just loved about watching for each buoy. The Hudson is marked well, but not extravagantly - it's really kind of cool. I'm a touch nearsighted, but as I remember it, at almost any given point, I could see exactly as many buoys as I needed to see to know where to go. You'd pass one, you'd have at least one in view up ahead - and then just as you were starting to feel a little vague about where you might need to head after you passed the next one, you'd spot the next one after that in the distance.
Rip Van Winkle Bridge at sunset
Rip Van Winkle Bridge at sunset

I especially loved it at night, in the stretch of the river where the buoys were flashing red and green. You'd have this string of little flashing lights, beating away like hearts, showing you the way north. They're all on different times (you match the flashes per second to your chart to know for sure which one you're coming up on - like you would know Green Can 17 up above at night because it would be flashing green every 2.5 seconds) and I liked watching the rhythms they would make together - together for a moment, then syncopated, then evenly spaced, back to syncopated, together again, around and around.

North of a certain point, the buoys weren't lit anymore, and the watch would be up on the bow with a high-powered flashlight, picking out the reflective markings that all the unlit buoys have. That was a little less relaxing, especially the year it was snowing when we got to Albany and we'd cut bow watches down to 10 minutes apiece because it was So Freaking Cold, but still a piece of cake compared to what Henry Hudson (and all the other mariners who plied the Hudson before the days of a deep-dredged, clearly-marked channel) had to do.

Amazing to think about, isn't it?


Tillerman said...

Terrific. I have to confess that I love buoys too (not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Actually one of the joys of living where we do now is that we can see buoys from our house, we can see the lights winking at night, and we can hear the bells ringing as they rock in the waves.

bonnie said...

Oh, that sounds marvelous.

Gong buoys and bell buoys have such a lovely sound - I almost put my Bingbong Machine video in because the gongs sound like they're recycled from a buoy.

Most of the buoys along the main channels in NY Harbor (upper, at least) are gongs or bells - you can see one on my "where you're safe" chart. I always enjoyed hearing them, although I'm quite glad that in all the time I spent sailing and paddling NY Harbor, I never saw a fog thick enough that you actually needed to rely on the sounds to tell where you were.

Joel Taylor said...

Your seven up can memory aid for port hand bouys is great! I borrowed it to share on my blog. at: Thanks!

Pandabonium said...

Brings back memories of sailing Lido #443 out of Santa Barbara with my brother at the tiller. We'd go out to the 1/4 mile marker buoy and check out the sea lions that were often lounging on it. They were usually barking complaints that they needed a bigger area.

Chuck Conley said...

Great article!

O Docker said...

"...beating away like hearts..."

Very nice.

They are the pulse of any harbor, aren't they?

Just make sure you give them their space, in passing.

You can't live with them and you can't live without them.

bonnie said...

Glad everybody's liking this one. I came up with the idea during the day at work and I just couldn't wait to get home.

Pandabonium, another thing I left out of this post was how much certain wildlife likes buoys. I've seen lots of pictures of California sea lions lounging on them -- our local seals seem to prefer beaches, but terns and other birds love to perch on them, and somewhere in my pictures from my Carribean sailing trip a few years, I have a picture of a buoy that had a whole little underwater ecosystem on it, up to and including fish. I'll have to try to find that on lunch.

In the meantime - Joel, glad you liked that mnemonic as much as I did, and OMG, I was absolutely cracking up over your helicopter-assisted sailing video last night. Hysterical.

Buck said...

This post ROCKS!!!!!

bonnie said...

Thanks, Buck!

Oh, ps - speaking of buoys lying, check out this marvelous Bowsprite post on just that topic!

bonnie said...

Here's that inhabited buoy in the BVI's.

JP said...

Great post!

Its so great I'll even forgive you for *probably* not pronouncing "buoy" correctly ;)

PeconicPuffin said...

Yes I recognize the Shinnecock map (lots of good windsurfing, kiting, stand up paddling, and even sit down paddling there.)

I like the buoys too!

Unknown said...

Really great article Bonnie. Thank you for writing it.



bowsprite said...

oh buoy! beautiful post and photos!!! On the schooner Pioneer, Capt Don Taube would insist for silence as we drew near the green 35 by Ellis Island. We were taking out booze cruisers, small parties, friends going out after work, tourists. But no one would defy him, and in silence, we'd round the buoy, listening to water lap on the hull, the wind push the sails, and the ringing of the bell. I'm glad he would make that order, now. How I miss him.

Rick said...

What I love so much about buoys is that they always point the direction that the current is flowing. You would think that marking the channel and giving gulls a place to sit would be enough.

Fred said...

What a great post about the buoys.
Always the first thing in the morning watching the green buoy from my window to tell me a story...
Thanks for bringing this up in such a nice presentation.

Unknown said...

What a great post!

Christy ~ Central Air said...

Great article about a fascinating subject. WTG and congrats!