Block Island is among the elusive destinations for many paddlers. It requires an 8.5-mile open crossing through an area with significant and complex tidal currents and boat traffic, and then another four or more miles to reach the ferry dock. It can be windy and suddenly foggy. We found an excellent description of the challenges on a blog called Wind Against Current, maintained by two brilliant scientist/paddlers.
Other challenges can arise, too. The first time Scott Fairty tried to paddle this route, his wife went into labor. Subsequent attempts were thwarted by adverse conditions. This time it was his own birthday, and conditions were perfect for another attempt.
Offshore winds and following seas sped us along, and an ebb tide required us to be on our navigation. If you miss the island, you’re seriously out to sea.
We decided to tackle the more challenging route around the west and south sides of the island to the ferry dock on the east side. After all, it was a rare opportunity to paddle that often treacherous coast.
Twelve miles and four hours later, we landed on a quiet beach on the west side of Block Island for a late and much-needed lunch.
This left us about nine more miles down and around to the east side of the island. The coast was all sandy cliffs with many rock gardens offshore. On a day with significant swell, it would have been a difficult and potentially dangerous route, but on this day, it was just fun.
By the time we arrived at the ferry dock, it was definitely dinner time. We had paddled 21 sometimes strenuous miles in a variety of sea states, and were pleased with our accomplishment.
After dinner, we set the kayaks next to the ferry and waited as all the passengers on foot or bicycles or in cars boarded first. Then we scrambled to get all the kayaks on board. We watched the sun set as we sped back to the mainland, marveling at the vastness of the water we had paddled earlier that day.
What is the allure of crossings of this type? After all, most of our most interesting paddling is where the sea meets the shore. But the combination of the exposure and the elusiveness of the destination has a unique appeal; the force of the ocean and the vastness of the vista remind us just how small we are, and reinforce the importance of skill and strategy over power.