One day last week the Steamship Authority cancelled most of the trips between the Islands and the mainland due to high winds. There was a rumor going around that the Chappy ferry would be closing down sometime in the afternoon. I can understand why folks would find that plausible. If the wind was so strong that the big ferries were having trouble then why wouldn’t the little ferries also have trouble?

In this particular case the wind was out of the northwest. Coincidently the Chappy ferry run is aligned northwest to southeast. The houses and trees uphill from the ferry do a great job of blocking the wind when it blows from the northwest. The ferry run is very well nestled into the lee of the town. Out on the open waters of Nantucket Sound the wind can blow twice the speed that it is on Chappy point. In the Edgartown slip the wind speed was about half of what it was on the more exposed Chappy side. So even though the big boats were getting tossed around, the Chappy ferry was just fine. Of course stormy days are no big fun for the ferry captain but they can handle it.

Northeast winds are the most troublesome. They cause above-normal flooding tides. The ferry gets swept downwind upon departure and has to fight its way back upwind to make the slip. Wind and waves together send spray the length of the ferry. The waves crash against the slip wall on the Chappy side, soaking the ferry captain when they leave the shelter of the pilothouse to operate the ramp. The wind-driven current deposits truckloads of seaweed in the slips that ends up tangled up in the propellers. Just at the time when the ferry needs all of its reserve power, the propellers are fouled and only half as effective.

There are times when the ferry can’t safely operate because of the weather. We try to predict ahead of time when the ferry will have to shut down and for how long. The problem is how to let you know so that you don’t get stranded. There are several ways that we endeavor to inform our travelers. If you have internet access, log onto our web cameras to get a rough idea of what’s going on down there. If you see water in the street halfway to the front steps of the Sculpin Gallery you know that things might be a little wild. If it’s the time of low tide with the water already in the street you can be sure that there will be a lot more water at high tide.

If you are heading to the ferry from the Chappy side and the there is a foot of water flooding the road at Caleb’s Pond there is also a foot of water at the base of the ferry ramp and the ferry is not running. You wouldn’t want to drive through saltwater, anyway, unless absolutely necessary. Imagine what that does to your brakes. Our website also gives you the wind speed and direction atop the Chappy side ramp.

I don’t expect everyone to be familiar with the particulars of the kind of bad weather that stops the ferry. If someone tells you that the ferry will be shutting down, ask them how they know that. I know how much trouble a ferry shutdown causes and we take that decision very seriously. I can’t protect you from misinformation, but I can try to get good information to you in a timely manner. We have a hotline phone at the ferry: 508-627-6965. As soon as we know there will be a problem, we put a warning on the outgoing message. Even better you can sign up with the town for automatic cellphone text notifications. I call Adam Darack, who is the town IT guy, when there is a ferry closing and he updates the notifications and puts a warning note on the town website. To sign up for those services text the word “Chappy” to 99000 and you will be automatically added to the list.

Most recently we began placing a statement across the top web camera image on our website. On a plain old ordinary day it says, “No Unforeseen Weather Conditions. Ferry Will Run As Scheduled.” My son in law Erik came up with that idea. If we predict a problem, the note will give you an estimated time and duration of shut down.

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