NEWBURY – Weeks after a powerful nor'easter ripped a massive U.S. Coast Guard buoy from the Merrimack River entrance and deposited it onto Plum Island Beach, a local excavating company lifted the 13,000-pound beast off the sand and onto a flat-bed truck waiting at Plum Island Center.
From there a T.W. Excavating Corp. truck driver drove it to the company's Route 1 headquarters where it will stay until the Coast Guard picks it up on Friday, according to T.W. Excavating co-owner Jesse Warren.
Warren said the Coast Guard will drive the buoy to its Portland, Maine, base, install a new chain and then place the buoy back in the mouth of the Merrimack.
Warren was operating the excavator while his brother Joe was on the beach near 37th Street. Overseeing the recovery were the Newbury Police Department, the Newbury Emergency Management Agency, and Conservation Commission.
Joe Warren, according to his brother, was the operation's chief rigging engineer and was responsible for making sure the buoy was ready to be lifted by the excavator and driven off the beach.
"Barring any malfunctions with the machinery, that's a standard recovery for us," Jesse Warren said, adding the company's excavator is capable of lifting 35,000 pounds.
Newbury Police Chief John Lucey Jr. said it was imperative to remove the buoy before Thursday night's expected snowstorm. Had the predicted 4 to 7 inches of snow fallen on the beach, it would have made the job of removing the buoy even harder.
The operation began around 9 a.m. during low tide and by 10:30 the buoy was driven off without incident.
"It went off without a hitch," Lucey said.
According to Lucey, the buoy's inch-and-a-half thick chain, which kept it anchored to the river bottom, snapped during the nor'easter sending it adrift.
The buoy had been anchored just east of the Merrimack River entrance and marked the northern side of the channel before it broke loose around Feb. 1, and ended up on the beach.
The Coast Guard was immediately tasked with not only retrieving its property but advising mariners the marker was no longer where it was supposed to be.
After washing up on the beach the buoy became an instant attraction, drawing hundreds of people each day. For many the temptation to climb it became overwhelming. Others were satisfied with standing next to it for a photo.
Staff writer Dave Rogers can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.