John Higgins was enjoying breakfast at the Cocomar Restaurant in the Dominican Republic last February when he noticed something from home. It was a buoy hanging on the wall, and on the buoy was written the word “Vinalhaven.” Higgins, a member of the Island Institute board of trustees, took photos of the buoy and sent them to Island Institute president Philip Conkling.

It turns out the buoy belongs to Vinalhaven lobsterman Leland Osgood. Osgood believes it is a buoy he used fishing offshore in 2005. During that winter Osgood fished in area 3, which is 40 miles from Vinalhaven. Some lobstermen number their buoys to keep track of where they are set, but “I don’t number anything,” said Osgood.  “If I did I would know exactly where it came from.” However, Osgood is certain it is a 2005 buoy, because he changed to different swivels the following year. Higgins’s photograph clearly shows the old swivel.

The buoy was found by a fisherman a couple of miles out to sea on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, near Monte Cristi. That is approximately 1,402 miles, as the crow flies, from the Gulf of Maine. So how did it get there?  There are several possibilities.  

Off the Continental Shelf, the Gulf Stream runs in a roughly clockwise direction, which means that anything caught in the Gulf Stream out of Maine waters would travel east, almost to the Azores, before turning south until it was close to South America, and then north through the Greater Antilles, of which the Dominican Republic is a part.  That is a long way for a buoy to travel, but, according to Vinalhaven Middle School science teacher Amy Palmer, who has a degree in oceanography, three years should be plenty of time for that to occur. However, there is a shorter path, closer to the coastline, where counter currents tend to run north to south. This would have been a much more direct route for the buoy to travel to the Dominican Republic.  

A third theory as to how a buoy would travel over 1,400 miles is that it could have been caught on a tugboat or a tanker and towed south. “Tanker traffic picks up considerably [in area 3]. It’s not uncommon to see three or four tankers pass by in a day,” said Leland Osgood. Common sense dictates that most tankers traveling south from Canada or Maine will stop in other U.S. ports, well before the Dominican Republic. However, Vinalhaven ferry crewman Nick Lobkowicz recently met a crewmember from a tanker that runs regularly from Searsport to the Amazon with no stops in between. This tanker carries slurry from Brazil to Searsport for use in the paper making industry in Maine. It is possible for such a tanker to have unknowingly caught a buoy and carried it 1,400 miles before the buoy became untangled from the boat.

Wayward buoys are not unheard of on Vinalhaven. Last spring, Vinalhaven High School senior Sam Rosen was attending the Island School on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. While walking on the beach on the eastern side of the island in late May he came upon a lobster pot buoy belonging to Vinalhaven lobsterman David Osgood, who is, coincidentally, Leland’s nephew. Rosen recognized David Osgood’s initials and license number branded into the buoy. He also found several escape vents and bait cleats on a beach on the southern tip of the island. Rosen knew the escape vents came from Maine by the manufacturer’s name and 207-area code phone number on the product.

It’s impossible to know for certain how these buoys found their way so far south, but to Leland Osgood, “It’s quite amazing.”  That, we know for sure.

Kris Osgood is the daughter-in-law of Leland Osgood and cousin-in-law of David Osgood.