About Amy Umble:
Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Red, right, returning?

Buoys are a favorite place for cormorants.

The buoys that mark the waters we’ve travelled are invaluable aids. There are red ones and green ones, triangles and squares.  They’re useful because they signal good water, the kind that’s deep enough to travel without running aground.

Dr. David Scott looks for buoys constantly, either in the water, on his paper chart or on his chart plotter, the large-screen GPS at his boat’s helm. When he finds a buoy, he uses it to guide his way.

To me, however, buoys are confusing. There doesn’t seem to be a consistent rule for them. I’ve spent a lot of time asking Scott, “Why is that buoy red?” or “Shouldn’t that be a green one?”

On the highways, the rules are easy to understand. Red always means stop, and green always means go. But on the water, red can mean one thing in one place and just the opposite in another.

I confess that prior to this trip, I knew nothing about buoys or nautical navigation. But, and I hope I am not betraying a confidence here, Scott says that he too is sometimes confused.

For example, take the North River, which we traveled today. The North River connects Albemarle Sound and Currituck Sound on the northern coast of North Carolina. It is the recommended route for boats traveling north and south on the Intracoastal Waterway.

A green buoy in Albemarle Sound.

Based on my extensive experience at sea–a total of four days–I would have expected to see red buoys on our right as we headed north on the North River. I based that on the “red right returning” rule. That means that you put a red buoy on your right as you return from the sea. Except, of course, when you’re on one body of water and another intersects it, or for some parts of the Intracoastal Waterway, or when you’re on the North River. Then, the rule doesn’t seem to apply.

Today, the green buoys were on our right as we traveled north on the North, through ever-narrower waters. “Shouldn’t the red buoys be on our right?” I asked Scott. He said he couldn’t explain it.

Nor could Galen Dunmire, a Maryland boater we met tonight at dinner in Coinjock. Dunmire and his wife, Becky, have traveled America’s Great Loop, the 6,000 mile circuit of the eastern United States and Canada. I figured he could solve my buoy problem, so I asked him, “Why were the green buoys on our right as we came here today?”

Dunmire shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. 

So, if you ever see me on the Rappahannock or Potomac, and I appear confused, just wave as you pass by. I’ll figure out these buoys eventually.

(A prior post about my travels with Scott, including a link to other posts, can be found here.)