The buoy system on Lake Winnipesaukee is unlike any other I've seen anyplace else on the planet. All the buoys are the same shape - a very narrow pole sticking out of the water. They're actually about the same size as a Type 18 periscope for those of you who know what that is. There are two types: red and black. That's it. It's either a red pole or a black pole. They look like this:
You're supposed to drive to the south or west side of red buoys and to the north or east side of black buoys. Got that?
I tried searching for a website with the diagram that comes on local charts of the lake to explain, but I couldn't find any. I did find another website that offered this memory-aid for keeping track of which side is which:
If the buoy is a white spar with black on top, you pass to the north or east of it. If the buoy is a white spar with red on top, you pass to the south or west of it. How do you remember that? I found my own memory trigger. Basically it's usually hot in the south and West and red represents a hot color. It's usually colder in the north and east (at least in winter) and black can represent a cold color. This works for me!This seems okay in theory. I have a few problems with this buoy system.
Problem #1) The buoys don't always show up in pairs. If there were a pair of buoys oriented north and south, then I would know to go north of the black one or south of the red one. Likewise, if there were a pair of buoys oriented east and west, then I would know to go west of the red one or east of the black one.
They frequently don't get used like that. For example, take our favorite cove to anchor out and go swimming. Here's the layout of the buoys as you go into that cove:
Now, without studying a chart, and armed only with the memory aid above, would you be able to figure out which way to go into this cove? Geez, this could be one of those brain-buster puzzles that high school teachers hand out when they've run out of things to do with the class. You're supposed to go SOUTH or WEST of red buoys, so which is it (south or west) in each of the three cases of red buoys above? If you actually look at the chart, they've drawn in a nice dotted line to show you what the buoy planters INTENDED:
So lemme get this straight... You want me to go WEST of the first red buoy, then SOUTH of the second red buoy. Then, for the third red buoy, I'm just supposed to suspend all logic or reason and go EAST of the buoy even though that totally violates the whole west or south of red buoys rule.
There's no way I would have figured that out without the chart. (Incidentally, the photo I posted of the red buoy up above is the first red buoy in the bottom left of my diagram above.)
Problem #2) When you're down-sun looking at a backlit buoy, it's very difficult to tell if it's red or black. In fact, when you're looking into the late afternoon sun, all the buoys appear black.
Problem #3) Did you note my comment above about how they're about the same size and shape as a Type 18 periscope? In case you didn't know, the guys looking out the Type 18 periscope don't want you to know they're looking at you. It's supposed to be stealthy. Well, guess what? So are these buoys. They're very difficult to spot from any distance, especially if there is any wave action on the water. So even if they ARE arranged in a pair around a hazard in the water, you might only spot the closer of the two buoys and not be able to spot the opposite side's buoy.
Sea Lake Story
Let's see, how do all sea stories start?
So there I was...
Driving the family boat across the lake to take my wonderful wife and mother-in-law out to dinner in Center Harbor. I have carefully reviewed the chart and my PIM track (plan of intended movement) to dinner, including the navigation hazards along the way.
I know there is a big ROCK smack in the middle of a large expanse of lake, and it's marked by a red buoy on the south side and a black buoy on the north side. As we cruised westbound into the late afternoon sun toward Center Harbor, I kept a sharp eye out for the buoys ahead.
I spotted one. (Use the image above of the backlit buoy as a reference point).
It looked black.
I was pretty sure it was black.
I expected I was to the right (north side) of my PIM track (before the days of recreational GPS), so it should be the black one.
Just to be sure, I asked my lovely wife what color she thought it was. She said, "Black."
I was ever-so-slightly concerned that I couldn't spot the other buoy on the other side of the rock, but the buoys are hard to see and sometimes they just aren't there. I said to myself, "Self, all indications concur that it is the black buoy. You should drive to the right (north) side of it."
We continued to cruise along merrily toward our dinner in Center Harbor. Right about the time the buoy was off our port beam (left side of the boat), my wife said, "NO, IT'S RED!" and almost instantaneously I felt and heard the bang and crunch noise of the boat hitting the rock at high speed.
Luckily, there was only minor damage to the hull (scrapes), but it broke one of the blades off the prop and bent another one of the blades back 45 degrees or so.
We decided we had better head back home until we could have the boat checked out. It had taken us like 10 minutes to get there from our place on the lake. It took us over an hour to limp back home again at low RPMs.
I was mortified.
Thankfully, I have a very gracious and forgiving mother-in-law, and she has never held it against me.
I don't know who the whiz kid is who came up with this red and black buoy system, but it sure would be nice if Lake Winnipesaukee would adopt something like the system the rest of the world uses. Note in the IALA system, there are both colors AND SHAPES. I can tell you multiple stories of piloting a submarine into foreign ports from Rota, Spain to Brisbane, Australia where a buoy or marker was backlit and I couldn't tell what color it was, but based on the SHAPE I knew which buoy it was and what side we were supposed to drive.