A large buoy that washed up on Wells Beach gets a tow back to sea

Apr. 22—WELLS — In the pitch black hours before dawn, Geoff Payson said he could hear the "indescribable" growl of something grating against the rock jetty at the end of Wells Beach.

Payson and his neighbors are accustomed to all kinds of things washing ashore after storms like the one that hit southern Maine early this month. But this, he said, was different: a 9,000 pound red-and-white-striped steel buoy had broken free from its anchor at the end of Wells Harbor and was bobbing in the violent tide.

It took the buoy a couple of tries to park itself on land, said Payson's neighbor Sue Mitchell. She noticed the buoy firmly planted on the beach the morning of April 11.

"It was like, oh my god," Mitchell said. "The buoy is on the sand."

Payson and Mitchell were in a crowd of at least a hundred people gathered on the beach Monday morning to watch as the Coast Guard hauled back the hunk of steel that Payson has come to to call "David Buoy" in a musical homage.

The 20-foot-tall wayward float became a tourist attraction over the last few weeks.

Payson and Mitchell, who live just behind a stretch of beachfront homes, said they have observed scores of people come to pose with the buoy, climbing on it and ringing its bell. Many left their mark by etching their initials and short messages into its black base.

"I can't even describe it," said Payson.

But the buoy was destined to return to the water. And Coast Guard crews spent the morning preparing a series of lines to tug it first back into the ocean and then onboard its ship, the USCGC Marcus Hanna.

The crowd waited on the cold beach for hours for what ultimately ended up being just a few minutes of movement.

"It's happening," one man shouted as people pulled out their phones, cameras and tablets to record the buoy being slowly towed through the sand. When it hit the water, some people cheered.

A drone recorded the event from above and provided a livestream for those who couldn't make the trek.

The Wells Beach buoy, of course, is more than an unconventional, off-season landmark; it's an important visual aid for people on the water trying to find their way back to land.

Dakota Curran, one of the Coast Guard members who helped retrieve the buoy Monday, said it's one of at least a thousand such aids the Coast Guard oversees along the Maine coast, from Rye Harbor in New Hampshire to Port Clyde in Saint George.

"At the end of the day, it's a service for the mariner," said Curran. "It's kind of like the big green signs on highways that say 'This is the way to go for Wells.'"

The Coast Guard inspects each buoy every two to three years, Curran said. They normally have a shelf life of about eight years, but can last much longer with proper maintenance.

He said the Wells Harbor buoy appears to have been made in 2018, based on its serial marker, and likely still has a lot of life left in it. The Coast Guard still has to assess how badly damaged it was in the storm and what maintenance it needs before it can be put back in the harbor. That assessment will be made aboard the Hanna, which had set anchor Monday a few hundred feet from the shore while a swimmer from a smaller boat carried the tow rope to land.

But most of the crowd didn't stick around to see that moment. The crowd started thinning before the buoy reached the ship.

Payson, despite weeks of anticipation, had stepped away at the wrong moment and missed the big event.

When he came back to the beach, he said, he noticed an indent in the sand that resembled the buoy.

He said afterward that maybe it's OK that he wasn't there to see the buoy off.

"I just couldn't stand to watch him drift away," Payson wrote in a text.