Coast Guard Works To Retrieve Off-station Chatham Roads Buoy

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Waterways

The seal watching vessel Perseverance steams past the Chatham Roads Bell Buoy which has been 1.6 miles off-station since January. The buoy was moved by the ice in Nantucket Sound this winter. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH — An unfamiliar gong was penetrating the fog along Red River Beach last week. It was a sound familiar to mariners looking for the Chatham Roads Bell Buoy 3, the aid to navigation was close to 1.6 nautical miles off-station.

The bell buoy was pulled from its station by ice in Nantucket Sound in January and the Coast Guard has made a couple of unsuccessful attempts to reset it. With the boating season underway in Nantucket Sound, there are concerns for safety.
Rendon, who reported the off-station buoy to the Coast Guard in January, said the discrepancy has been published in the Notice to Mariners. With boating season underway, it is important to get it back on station, he said.

On Friday Rendon said he was told the Coast Guard will seek to place the buoy on station this week. The bell buoy marks the deep water channel in Nantucket Sound leading into Stage Harbor in Chatham. Right now the buoy is sitting in very shallow water.

After an email two weeks ago pleading with the Coast Guard to restore the buoy to its rightful location, Rendon received a response explaining the agency has made attempts to relocate the buoy, but they were unsuccessful because it is sitting in less than five feet of water behind a sandbar, about a quarter of a mile off Red River Beach.

“The CGC (buoy tender) Ida Lewis is the primary unit for the aid, we went out with them back in February and attempted to pull the aid off the sandbar but the Ida could only get within an 1NM (one nautical mile) of the buoy before they ran out of water. In March the [Coast Guard vessel] Juniper attempted to get their small boat and tow line onto the buoy but again due to the depth of water and length of the tow line they too couldn't get in there to tow it off,” Coast Guard BMCS Jeffrey Smith wrote in an email.

Yet another attempt to reach the buoy was made with a smaller vessel, but the email states it could only get within 500 feet of the buoy before running out of water and the vessel's tow line was only 300 feet long. The Coast Guard plan was to recover a buoy stranded on Sandy Neck Beach in Cape Cod Bay and then go back to Red River to pull this one off as well.

“The issues we are running into is the distance to good water, the sinker for the buoy is 20,000 (pounds) and a nice sandy bottom are all stopping this aid from going back to where it belongs,” Smith wrote.

Smith anticipated the next attempt, working on a full moon tide and with additional tow line, would be successful. If it doesn't work, plan B involves divers disconnecting the buoy from the sinker and then moving it.

Smith said on Tuesday the attempt to put the Chatham Roads Bell buoy back on station would be made Wednesday if weather allows. He said the noon high tide is important, but they are concerned with winds and rolling seas. He said the situation is complicated by the 90-foot chain still being attached to the sinker.

If Wednesday doesn't work, it relocation of the buoy will depend on the availability of the 135-foot buoy tender Ida Lewis out of Newport, R.I.

“We're not going to give up on it, it's something we have to get,” Smith said.