Getting to Block Island

There are many ways to get to Block Island.  You can fly from Westerly, using New England Airlines.  In the summer, you can take ferries from Montauk Point, Point Judith, New London and Newport. 

  • The Block Island Chamber of Commerce provides a comprehensive list of transportation options, both on and off the island here
  • But the only way you can bring a car to Block Island is through Interstate Navigation on the Traditional Ferry from Point Judith. Here are the link and the phone numbers:  https://www.blockislandferry.com/schedules-fares866-783-7996; 401-783-7996.     

All the things we love about Block Island - the quiet, the peace, the relative lack of crowds, the wildlife, the unspoiled hiking trails, the beautiful clean beaches, are here because there’s an ocean between us and the mainland.   And that means another step in our planning.  And that often means we'll be dealing with the ferry - with its limited capacity, which rides on open ocean - with its implacable ways. 

I was on the ferry one time, half way to Block Island, and talking to a four-year old boy.  He proudly announced that he was on his way to Block Island.  I said, "Oh, that's wonderful."  He said, "Are you going to Block Island, too?"  Well, in fact I was.  And this is the point.  Despite the fact that we actually do know that, we sometimes have to live through a couple of situations to appreciate what that means.  That extra step to get there, that adventuresome ferry ride, means that the consequences for a little mistake are so much bigger than those normally experienced in a non-maritime situation. 

There was nothing to warn me about this.  There was no sign that said, "Abandon hope.  There is no turning back on this ferry".  Oh, quite the opposite is true - it all seems harbor-like and lovely.  So it can come as quite the learning experience when we're half-way across and we start to wonder whether we left the lights on in our car.  There's no turning back for our keys or our wallet, either.  There is no turning back.  And if the wind is blowing and the ferries don't run, that's it.  And if we need a car reservation, and there is no room, we can't have that either.  It doesn't matter how much we want it.  The ocean is there, and that's all there is to it.  Many of us already know this.  We know that coming to Block Island is in equal parts, a vacation, a deployment, and an adventure.  One that despite it's quaint appearance, is wilder and more subject to the laws of nature than many of the other things that we have ever done.

With apologies to those of you who already know this, here are some of the issues.

  • If you are renting a house on the island, I assume you will need one or more car reservations.  Get that done as soon as you can.  Interstate Navigation starts taking summer reservations early in January.  If your "change over day" is on a weekend, get it done then.
  • Watch the weather.  If ferries are cancelled, it will be announced on Interstate's website.  If they run but it's a windy day, be prepared if your folks are inclined to be seasick.  Some people do better as far back and as close to center on the ferry as possible.  Personally, I do better lying down.  Some do better outside, but away from the smell of the diesel smoke.   Some people take ginger, some use sea bands.  If anyone in your party is needs seasickness medication, it's best if they take it before the ferry gets going.  In a pinch, I believe they sell it at the concession stand on the ferry.  Here is an article about seasickness from the Block Island Times.
  • The height and length of your car will matter, so just be accurate when you make your reservation.  If you’ve got bicycles added to the back of your car or a canoe and or a surfboard on top, tell them when you make your reservation.  Those extra items will affect how much you pay and whether they have room for you on the ferry. 
  • Leave enough time.  If you’re taking a car, Interstate will not be kidding when they say to get there an hour early.   The people  crowding the roads on the way to the Rhode Island beaches won’t know that they have said that.  Neither will the people wandering in the roads around the ferry depot.  Your blood pressure will be so much better, and if you miss your ferry and have to go on standby for the next one, or possibly the one after that, well, there’s only so much of that you will want to do.
  • If you are not bringing a car and you have a lot of things to bring over, you can get a “pallet”, which is a large box that can fit, say all the suitcases and groceries and stuff you could cram into your car.  You can find these on the Point Judith side by the freight office, which is just before the parking area for cars getting on the ferry.  You MUST get to the ferry at least an hour ahead of time in order to use these pallets, as they are typically loaded on before the cars, and the willingness of the ferry staff to make exceptions to this rule will go down exponentially when the ferry terminal is crowded.  And in the summer, it is crowded all the time. 
  • Once you get to the island, you pick the pallet up in the freight lot, which is on the right or the northern most part of the ferry terminal.  There will be a lot of cars jockeying for position.  You'll wait for the pallet, watch for your number, and wave feverishly at the guy so he can bring it close, or relatively close to your car.
  • If you want to walk on with your things, there will be shelves on the car deck where you can put them.  I would say groceries and suitcases are fine.  I wouldn’t leave cameras or computers.  It’s just that they could bounce around, and jammed in with other things and possibly get wet a little.
  • And by the way, the time that the ferry is leaving is the time when they actually leave.  It’s not the time to be in the general vicinity.  If the ferry has shut the gate, if they are underway, and by that I mean one inch away from the dock, it is too late.  You will need time to drop off your things, get a ticket, park the car, walk back to the ferry.  Leave enough time.
  • If you are bringing a dog, they will want to stop every five feet to read the wonderful information left by all of the other dogs.  Every twenty feet or so, someone will ask you if they can pet your dog, or will try to have their dog or child can say hello to your dog, whether your dog is amenable to that or not.  This is all fine, but you should feel absolutely free to say yes or no to any of these possibilities, because if anything should happen it is going to be your problem.
  • You can make your life easier, especially if you are trying to come on a weekend, by timing your arrival to the area to coincide with people getting off the ferry from Block Island and presumably leaving a parking space somewhere, just for you.  It could be a long walk.  Anything is solvable as long as you leave enough time.
  • Block Island is out in the open ocean.  This is different than any of the other islands in New England.  While it doesn’t happen very often in the summer, it is possible that there will be high wind, and in that case the ferries will cancel.  Talk to your realtor or homeowner about that possibility, especially in hurricane season.  Have a back up plan.
  • And last thing, when you’ve parked your car on the other side and you’re running for the ferry, remember to lock the door of your car, or if you can’t remember that, just remember to shut the door.  I mean, who would ever do that - come back to the car in the lot and realize they left the door open two weeks ago?  Well, let’s say I know someone who has done that before.  And she's not a flaky person.  I swear.  She's the opposite of a flaky person.  Her husband who is reading this, insists that she say that right now.  It's just that she has to learn that there are only so many things she can remember when she is in a rush.  She was always in a rush before she lived on Block Island, and now she knows there are certain times when it's important to slow down.  She has learned to check and check again.  She leaves enough time to do so.  In twenty years of living here, she has learned that one thing.  It’s better not to hurry.  It’s better to have extra time.