Dume Buoy Kept Boats Off the Rocks for 108 Years
• Modern Mariners Can Rely on GPS Technology but the Point Sea Lion Colony Is Out of Luck
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
For over 100 years, the Point Dume buoy has warned mariners away from dangerous rocks, and enchanted—or disconcerted—visitors and residents with the sound of its deep, mournful whistle, and later with the ringing of its massive bronze bell.
Earlier this year, the buoy was permanently removed by the U.S. Coast Guard.
The proposal to discontinue the buoy was reportedly submitted to the Marina Del Rey yachting and fishing community for comment, where the discontinuance apparently did not receive any opposition. The removal plan appears not to have been circulated in the City of Malibu. However, Lt. Morgan Barbieri, the officer in charge of collecting comments on the proposal did not respond to repeated attempts to contact him for clarification.
The first Point Dume buoy was installed in 1903, after the U.S. Government's longtime plan to build a light house on the headland was finally abandoned—Malibu Ranchero owner Frederick Hastings Rindge, and later his widow, May Knight Rindge, refused to let the government have access to the headlands.
For 90 years, the marker installed to warn mariners away from the rocks featured a wave-powered whistle. Longtime Point Dume residents vividly remember the doleful cow-like lowing of the whistle. When weather and surf conditions were right, the sound carried for miles.
A 1909 mariner's guide published by the U.S. government describes: "A whistling buoy, red, 'Pt. Dume,' is placed mile off the point, and vessels must not go inside of it."
According to Malibu historians John Merrick and Ronald Rindge, in their book "Maritime Stories of Point Dume and Malibu," the whistle was removed in 1993, "in response to complaints from residents about the whistling sound being too loud."
It was replaced with a light and bell buoy. The bell, cast out of bronze and weighing 225 pounds, according to a Coast Guard schematic, had four clappers. As waves rocked the buoy, the clappers would strike the bell, producing a single tone that increased in volume and frequency with high surf or choppy conditions. Like the whistle, the sound carried during certain weather conditions, and was often accompanied by the barking calls of the buoy's sea lion passengers.
Merrick and Rindge speculated that the buoy light would have been discontinued during WWII, when the Malibu coast was under blackout orders.
They provide a newspaper account of the buoy, valued at that time at $8000, breaking its moorings and washing out to sea during a powerful winter storm on Jan. 9, 1974, and an evocative description, written by journalist Jim Murray, of "nights when the fog creeps across the fingers of land, and the deep-water buoy off the rocks sounds its mournful dirge…"
According to Merrick and Rindge, every six years, the buoy would be hauled out, scraped, repaired and repainted.
Rindge accompanied the Coast Guard cutter Conifer in 1999, when a new bell buoy, equipped with a solar-powered red light was installed—a serious undertaking, since the buoys weigh an estimated 11,800 pounds, not including an 8500 pound concrete sinker and 400 feet of mooring chain, weighing as much as an additional 20,000 pounds.
Although generations of local sailors have been taught that the buoy marked dangerous rocks and kelp and that it should never be passed on the shore side, 21st century mariners will have to depend on GPS technology to stay clear of troubled waters.
Point Dume residents were not the only ones upset by the removal of the buoy. Locals say that the area's large colony of sea lions appears to have dispersed following the removal of the buoy, and that only a few of the marine mammals appear to have remained in the vicinity.
If the sea lions had been surveyed, they might have had plenty to say about the removal of what has been a favorite pinniped gathering place.