Edgartown officials have begun a major effort to warn boaters of treacherous tides in the town harbor and Katama Bay resulting from the breach which has opened at Norton Point Beach.
The direction of the tidal flow has reversed due to the breach, and currents are running three times faster in the narrows, posing a major threat of collision, as well as seriously hampering the operation of the ferry to Chappaquiddick, now the only access to Chappy.
Edgartown harbor master, Charlie Blair told the selectmen on Monday afternoon he also was fearful of the prospects for capsizes and potential drownings of people attempting to negotiate the breach.
Mr. Blair is preparing an emergency management plan, which he hopes to have ready for the coming selectmen's meeting this week, involving new warnings, buoys, safety equipment, possible extra patrols and new funds.
In cooperation with the Edgartown Yacht Club, Mr. Blair said he is trying to contact everyone likely to use the harbor in the coming months, to alert them to the new hazards, including the several hundred seasonal visitors who have reserved moorings, as well as regular permit holders.
The yacht club is in the process of notifying all its members and fleet captains for various other clubs. Mr. Blair said the yacht club planned to tow its junior sailors to the outer harbor, to get them out of the way of the potential threat of collision with the Chappy ferry or other craft.
The current in the narrows used to run about one knot. Now it is about three knots. While that might not sound fast, Mr. Blair said, it is about two-thirds the top speed of the Chappy ferry.
The tidal flow, coupled with the prevailing southwesterly winds in the summer months would force yachtsmen to work harder to beat into the harbor, he said.
"They will have to tack a lot more to get in against the tide," he said, "but my main concern is with those heading out of the harbor. They'll have trouble keeping control. In that sort of current, they will be going out fast, with or without sails."
Mr. Blair said it had been suggested that his people could patrol the area near the ferry, but he said he has neither the money nor the equipment to patrol the area for the 50 or 60 days of summer.
The owner of the Chappy ferry, Roy Hayes, said the tides now are "ripping through the harbor all day," and there is almost no time at which there is a slack tide. At times, the flow runs in opposite directions on the Edgartown and Chappy sides, Mr. Hayes said.
The result is both slower operation and harder impacts into the slips on both ends.
"The opening is causing us more difficulties than I'd ever imagined. We've had impacts like we've never had before," Mr. Hayes said.
Another potentially dangerous problem was that it is harder to avoid other boats. The tidal flow is so strong that the ferry now travels almost sideways across the channel, and as a result vehicles on board obscure the ferry captain's line of vision.
"Unless the breach is closed, it's going to keep impacting. It's going to be a difficult summer," Mr. Hayes said. He also said the raging tides may make it difficult to shuttle two ferries back and forth at once, long a practice in the summer months when car traffic to and from Chappaquiddick increases dramatically with beach-goers, fishermen and summer residents.
"If we have an accident, we're shut down," Mr. Hayes said.
Mr. Blair said he had other concerns about activity around the breach itself.
"I'm really fearful of what could happen at the breach," he said. He said The Trustees of Reservations, who manage Norton Point Beach, were getting new lifesaving equipment to put at both sides the breach.
The harbor master said he is also worried about summer kayakers, jet skiers and people who, as he put it, "don't have a clue" about the conditions, capsizing and being swept into the surf break.
Equally, he said, he had no doubt experienced locals would take advantage of the new entrance to Katama Bay, which is some 300 yards wide and deep enough to be navigable by large boats.
But the chairman of the town shellfish committee, Donald Benefit, said the longer term effect on his industry could be good.
Although some people with oyster leases, including Mr. Blair and his daughter Scarlet, had lost some equipment - buried in sand or moved when the breach opened up - most leaseholders had moved theirs before the storm and were not seriously affected, Mr. Benefit said.
"It will flush out all the silt and the pollutants. The water quality will improve," Mr. Benefit said of the breach.
He said he believed pollutants had killed seed scallops in the bay in recent years.
"This will rejuvenate it [the shellfishery]," Mr. Benefit said.
Meanwhile criticism continued over the actions of the county manager in the aftermath of the storm.
E. Winn Davis announced last week that he was seeking more than $500,000 in federal disaster relief to fill or bridge the breach, claiming the beach track across Norton Point was a vital escape route for Chappaquiddick residents in case of fire or other emergency.
He was immediately criticized for failing to consult with other authorities, including the town, some members of his own commission and The Trustees of Reservations. Most Chappy residents appeared unconcerned about the lack of beach access, and doubts were cast on the feasibility of closing such a large channel.
On Monday selectman Michael Donaroma said that the county had "jumped out too fast."
Later he expressed himself more strongly.
"I think it was a lame idea by a lame person that put it together in a very lame way.
"I don't think we're going to get it [the money]. If you come out and tell the public that we're trying to get some money from the state for fixing something and then we're going to use it for something else, they're not going to give it to us," Mr. Donaroma said.