Bye Bye Buoy Zero

Hi, my name is Philip Hughes. I am one of the owners of the beautiful prestigious ski site Champions Lake in Clermont Fl. Our lake was built at 1786 ft long or in metric 541 meters so an 8 buoy course had been installed before the 11 owners had bought lots and built homes here.

So you deal with what you have, which is a beautiful, very sheltered ski site with clear translucent blue water. An 8 buoy course makes a short lake much longer by integrating the overlay tope of the course. The down side to it is that the pull out for the gates can be distracting for some as there is what we call a buoy zero in your line of sight. It does not really affect skiers on 18 m. and 16 m. but at 14 m. it is right at the spot where you want to turn in for the gates.

We started holding some Record Capability tournaments at the site but many skiers hated that Zero ball! So I started looking into how we could pull it down out of the way so the course then would look like a normal 6 ball course. I had heard of a system at a lake in Atlanta so I contacted a gentleman there who told me that they had used a garage door open and close system to pull the zero ball down.

He told me it was not particularly reliable and for that reason he had never used it in a tournament. He was going to send me some pictures of the system but I never did get them, so I thought: Well let’s go to Home Depot (a huge DIY store here in the US) and have a look at a garage door opener system in the flesh.

I took the box off the shelf and laid the parts on the floor. I looked it an thought to myself: this looks extremely complicated to make this work. So disappointed I started packing it back in the box and as I picked it up to put it back on the shelf, I noticed a farm gate opener on the shelf. Excitingly I took it out of the box and lay it on the floor. And I thought: Bingo! This could work!!!

So I put it back in the box and took it to the checkout, bought it and took it home. As soon as I got home I hooked it up to a battery in my garage and set it in motion. It basically has an electric battery or solar powered motor that moves a ram in and out. I measured the travel of the ram and it was 13 inches, so I thought: Perfect!

13 Inches is enough to pull the buoy down and it is deep enough for the skier not to hit it. So I rigged up a temporary block and strapped the opener to it. Then I swam out to the buoy with a rope, fed the rope through the eye of the buoy anchor and then swam back and attached it to the gate opener. Then I hooked up the battery and the buoy pulled straight down 13 inches. I was ecstatic thinking (how simple is this), so I went out in the boat to take a look from the skier perspective and when I saw it my thought was: Oh no!

Although the ball was down 13 inches, you could still see it on our very clear water. So I knew that would not work as it would still distract the skier. And worse still, as the will now think they will hit it below the surface. So back to the shore and rethink of the situation! I have to make that buoy go down at least 3 feet on our lake. Then it hit me: what did I just buy? A farm gate opener! So use it what it was designed for! So I went and bought some timber and concreted in a post.

Then I went and got some 16 in hollow concrete blocks and stainless steel eyes and set about filling them with concrete and setting the stainless eye in the middle. Once all the concrete was set, I then built a hinged arm onto the concrete post I had installed that that would travel back and forth.

The next stage was to carry the blocks out into the water and lay them in a straight line from the buoy back to the shore to the “Gate”. I purchased some vinyl covered steel wire and fed it through the eyes on the blocks and up through the buoy anchor eye. Rules say that “if you displace the buoy in this manner, it has to come back to the exact position” so it was important to do that.

After attaching the wire rope to the buoy, I went back to shore and operated it by hand pulling it up and down and it worked perfectly. So now to attach the opener to my home built gate which was simple enough to do. We were now ready for the moment of truth! I attached the cables of the opener to the 12v battery I had bought, pressed the remote control that came with the opener kit and down went the buoy. Pressed it again and up it came. I was over the moon with my new invention!

Reading through the manual of the opener, you can put in various settings as in limits of travel and how long the gate stays open or in our case how long the buoy stays down. The setting is 3 sec to 120 sec so that is perfect. You can allow the buoy to remotely come back up in that time frame.

The next test was: will the remote work from the boat at the end of the lake? So down to the end of the lake I went and damn! It doesn’t work! So back to the opener system on the shore. There is a small control box with an antenna on it, so I thought: I need to raise this higher up on the post. Hopefully it will then receive the signal from the remote. So I did this, back to the end of the lake and YES, it worked!! I tried it out a few times and it worked perfectly.

So now the next thing was to install one at the other end of the lake, which was now pretty straight forward after having done it once. With it all now installed at both ends, I found that during testing I could sometimes lower both ends at the same time which obviously is not going to work as the skier needs to go around what would be no. 5 buoy at the other end. A quick look at the manual and I found I could change the frequency on the remote. That solved the problem.

So we set the buoy to go down and stay down for 1 minute from the time the remote is pressed and whilst the skier is at the other end of the lake. During the set down period the buoy comes up.

Since the initial installation some additions and modifications have been added. We ran 12v 16 gauge wire from our electricity supply on my dock through the supplied 120v to 12v transformer to keep the 12v battery charged at all times. We also ran a cable across the lake to the judges tower and wired into it a two button switch which they then press to make the ball go down in tournaments. This works very well and skiers that come to ski in our events are loving the system.

Each owners boat on the lake has two remotes, one for each end, so the system can be used all the time in practice as well as in Record Tournaments. Credit must go to Brian Idland and Will van Fecht. Will for building a better gate than me and Brian for coming up with a LED light system that works in conjunction with the timer so when the remote is pressed the led comes on and when the buoy comes up the light goes out, which skiers, drivers, judges and the like can all see: when the light is on, the buoy is down.

It is a fantastic system and a godsend to any one that has an 8 buoy course. It has been copied on some other lakes both here in the US and in Europe, which is fine as I do not have a patent on it. But just to let you know when you see this somewhere: IT WAS MY IDEA.

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