Ferry service to Block Island resumed Wednesday after a four-day suspension due to hazardous sea conditions.
The ferry began running at 7 a.m. and will depart Point Judith at 8:15 a.m., 9 a.m., 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 4 p.m., and 5 p.m. The High-Speed Ferry has been canceled for a fifth day.
Ferry service typically runs four times daily from Monday through Thursday, and six times on weekends. The number of trips is based on the business needs of the island, according to Chris Myers, port captain for Interstate Navigation, which runs the Block Island Ferry.
Myers told the Globe that the High-Speed Ferry is a jet-propelled boat that at full throttle operates at a service speed of 30 knots, approximately 34.5 mph, on top of the water. If wind speeds are close to 16.5 knots (19 mph) and produce waves higher than five feet, the High-Speed Ferry could be canceled, Myers said.
“The services limit for the High-Speed Ferry is 4 to 6 feet,” he said. “We can operate the High-Speed Ferry but by the time it’s up to six feet, slowing down to avoid bigger waves becomes an issue.”
Myers said the four-day suspension this week is one of the longest weather-related delays for the ferry service since he started working for Interstate Navigation 34 years ago. The rough sea conditions are related to northeast winds produced by the remnants of Tropical Storm Ophelia, which make it difficult for boat operators to approach, enter, and exit, the harbor.
“We have to maintain a minimum lifeline service,” Myers said. “We do our very best to do that.”
On a hot, sunny day, Myers said the ferry transports close to 500 passengers during morning departures this time of year, and on a “rainy, windy, nasty day” a couple of hundred passengers.
The ferries also carry commercial and passenger vehicles and freight that includes pallets of mail, groceries, building supplies, and more.
“Our first couple trips will be food supplies, US mail and UPS, which we normally bring once a day in large quantities,” Myers said. “Those shipments show up mid-morning every weekday.”
Traditional ferry , Departing Pt. Judith at 1PM & 7PM departing BI at 1PM, 1:30PM, 430PM & 7PM are cancelled. We will reevaluate the sea conditions to determine if we can run trips 3PM & 5PM. We will update this message by 1PM. The High Speed Ferry departures are cancelled.— Block Island Ferry (@BlockIsleFerry) September 26, 2023
The National Weather Service forecast for Wednesday predicts mild northeast wind at approximately 16 mph on Block Island, with sunny skies and a high of 64 degrees. Winds will continue to calm tonight to around 10 to 14 mph.
Most Block Island visitors departed before the ferry service was canceled, according to Town of New Shoreham Harbormaster Kate McConville. She said there has been “no boating activity” around the island since last Friday.
New Shoreham Town Clerk Millicent McGinnes left the island Thursday night to attend a conference and hasn’t been able to return. She typically takes the ferry when it’s convenient, but Tuesday she booked a flight on New England Airlines, which flies daily between Westerly State Airport and Block Island State Airport. Her 10:30 a.m. flight was delayed by the weather.
“I’m stranded on this side so I can’t get back to work,” McGinnes said Tuesday. She said ferry-less days are colloquially known as “shore days” by Block Islanders. “We have had four days without boats; every now and then we might get three days.”
If she’s stranded, McGinnes stays at her home in Newport.
On Block Island, there are no “perpetual fears” about being cut off from the mainland.
“You will see things get depleted in the grocery store — the milk, eggs, and bread go quick,” McGinnes said. “It harbors back to when the weather was too bad for fisherman to go out, you have a ‘shore day.’ Some days you spent your shore days sitting at the bar. That’s just an old story.”
McGinnes’ advice to people traveling to Block Island year-round is to watch the weather.
“If there’s any risk of having a boat canceled, you leave early.”
This story has been updated with comments from Millicent McGinnes, and Chris Myers.