There are no ripples or wake anymore, but the impact of no Schamonchi and no fast ferry from New London, Conn., has hit some businesses in Tisbury hard, especially along Beach Road where the ferries used to dock and disgorge tourists by the hundreds.
"It's a big factor," said the manager of Sodapops, a restaurant and ice cream shop across the street from the old Pier 44. "We used to have these enormous rushes just before and after the ferry. My best guess is we're losing $300 a day in business."
Up and down Beach Road, the story is much the same. The loss of both passenger ferries from the harbor was like a double-whammy right at the outset of tourist season. First came the Steamship Authority's decision last spring to reroute the Schamonchi to Oak Bluffs.
Then, it was the vanishing act of the two fast ferries from New London, the Sassacus and the Tatobam. One of them showed up Memorial Day weekend and never came back, according to Tisbury harbor master Jay Wilbur.
Officials at Fox Navigation, which owns the two high-speed ferries, said the boats are now being used for a commuter service running between Glen Cove, Long Island and Manhattan.
The loss of the fast ferries plus the Schamonchi translates into several hundred fewer tourists a day coming into Tisbury. The Schamonchi alone now brings about 530 passengers a day to Oak Bluffs, according to SSA statistics. And last year, Sassacus zoomed into Vineyard Haven with some 300 people a day, said the operations manager for Fox Navigation in New London.
Smaller cruise ships are now landing at Tisbury Wharf, but their passenger figures are considerably lower and their trips much less frequent. About once a week, a cruise ship carrying 100 to 120 people pulls up to the pier and stays for the day. Sometimes more than one ship arrives in a week, but it's nothing like what's erupted in Oak Bluffs, where a weekly visit from the gargantuan Norwegian Cruise Lines ship instantly sends almost 1,000 tourists into town.
Clearly, that news is a sore spot with business leaders in Tisbury. The hardest hit are the car and moped rental businesses.
"It's a loss, and you can feel it," said Pat Cimeno, owner of Beach Road Rentals, which sold off its stock of mopeds and now rents only cars. "We were the first ones they'd see."
"It's affecting everything. I've lost customers from the Schamonchi and lost from the Tatobam," said Robert Clermont, owner of Adventure Rentals, which deals in both cars and mopeds.
"The foot traffic has been missed, and businesses have definitely been impacted," said Jeff Kristal, president of the Tisbury Business Association. "It has hurt, and that's why we're looking to the future."
His group is lobbying hard with the Steamship Authority to let the Schamonchi come back to Tisbury for at least a few runs per day next summer. Meanwhile, Fox Navigation has asked Tisbury selectmen for permission to come back next season with a new fast ferry that's being built.
Tisbury selectmen aren't promising a green light for the high-speed ferry, especially given the controversy surrounding their presence in Vineyard Haven since they first arrived in 1997. One of their biggest critics was Mr. Wilbur, the harbor master, who cited the environmental impact, smell and noise of the ferries, which run on jet fuel and reach speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour.
"It sounded like we were on the runway at Logan Airport," Mr. Wilbur said. "It wasn't only the sound and the odor impact, but it was visually completely out of character with the Vineyard Haven harbor."
Mr. Wilbur said the last time he heard from Fox Navigation was around Memorial Day. "They called and said they were coming," he said. "They faxed me a schedule and I never saw them again, and I'm not complaining about it."
But it will be up to selectmen whether the fast ferries get to come back. Fawn DeMello, the operations manager at Fox Navigation, which is owned by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation in Connecticut, told the Gazette yesterday that the plan is to be back to Vineyard Haven.
Before that can happen, though, Tisbury selectman Ray LaPorte said the plan will have to meet new guidelines for the Vineyard Haven harbor, enacted last year as part of a district of critical planning concern (DCPC) established through the Martha's Vineyard Commission.
"The big issues are safety and congestion in the harbor," said Mr. LaPorte. "Plus, there's the speed at which they enter and exit the harbor."
Despite all the hand-wringing about the loss of the boats and steep decline in tourist traffic, some shopkeepers are glad to see them gone. Will Craffey, owner of Island Pizza in the Tisbury Marketplace, said the passenger ferries just meant more cars filling up parking spaces in front of his shop. "We're dead-even this year," he said. "I can't say it hurt me."
And over at Johnny's Fine Carryout, owner Johnny Graham saw the daytrippers and foot traffic as more of a headache than a source of profit. And their absence comes as something of a relief.
"They'd take up parking spaces, or they'd come in with their bagged lunches and sit in my gazebo," he said. "Once I put up a sign saying ‘Sushi Today,' and people were coming in looking for a Slushie."