Fine weather and the promise of fresh sea air have confounded early predictions of a quiet summer on the water, as town harbor masters say boating activity in and around the Vineyard has mostly returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“It’s picking up,” Vineyard Haven harbor master John Crocker said this week. “My guess is by the time we get to the end of this month we’ll be pretty much back to where we were at this time last year.”

In Menemsha, harbor master Ryan Rossi said traffic in the harbor has actually surpassed that of last summer.

Since July Fourth the mooring field in Vineyard Haven has been sold out every weekend. — Ray Ewing

The small fishing village added three additional single-occupancy moorings to its outer harbor — bringing the count from five to eight. Between these moorings, the inner harbor’s two moorings, 17 transient slips and additional dock space, the harbor can accommodate roughly 33 transient boats at a time.

But even with the additional space, Mr. Rossi said the harbor has been at full capacity most weekends since July 1 and has sustained 90 per cent capacity during the weekdays in July, an unusually high number for this time of year.

“We’ve had a huge number of boats that we actually don’t have space for,” he said. “We’ve had to turn a lot of people who want to come away because we just don’t have the room.”

Though the notes are slightly different in each of the Island harbors, the overall melody is one of a busy year for Island boating after a slow start to the season. Where there has been some softness in overnight moorings, visits from day-trippers are booming, especially on weekends, with pleasure boats converging on the Island from across the Vineyard Sound.

Harbormasters say they are keeping an eye on mask-wearing. — Timothy Johnson

“[Saturday] was busier than the Fourth of July and so was the Saturday before,” Edgartown harbor master Charlie Blair said this week. “It was like Indianapolis yesterday. Everything that floated was here.”

With the increase in boaters, harbor officials throughout the Island have taken steps to reduce the risk of unwary visitors spreading the coronavirus. Towns have mostly curtailed the use of rafting, the practice of multiple boats tying up together. In Menemsha, Mr. Rossi said his team has been exhorting visitors to follow the town’s mask-on rule and ensuring social distancing measures are followed in the harbor and on the docks. Mr. Crocker said Vineyard Haven staff requires everyone on Owen Park pier to wear a mask. When boaters rent moorings they are instructed to wear a mask if they are going to come ashore; if they don’t have a mask, harbor staff supplies them with one.

In Oak Bluffs, overall harbor activity is on par with or slightly higher than previous summers, said harbor master Todd Alexander. The harbor has sold more gasoline and diesel fuel than last year. And while the number of overnight slip reservations for the season may still fall below last year’s figures due to a slow spring, every weekend in July and August was sold out, he said.

One area that has seen decline is in the number of boats staying overnight on town moorings. Traditionally, Oak Bluffs has a mandatory rafting policy of up to four boats per mooring. This year the policy has been changed to remove mandatory rafting. Even so, the mooring field has not yet reached capacity at any point this summer, Mr. Alexander said.

In Menemsha boat traffic has surpassed last summer. — Ray Ewing

“Weekends are busy but the weekdays, especially in the mooring field, are pretty tame,” he said.

With sunny skies and calm seas, however, the mooring field in Oak Bluffs is full of boaters on the weekend who come from the Cape to spend the day on a mooring but head for home once the sun starts to set.

“There are more people hanging out on their boats when they get here than in the past,” he said.

Business in the Vineyard Haven Harbor has been a notch under what typical summer traffic usually brings, said the town harbor master Mr. Crocker. In June, overnight mooring rentals were down about 30 per cent. Through July 20, they were down about 15 per cent from last summer. Since July Fourth, however, the mooring field has been sold out every weekend, he said.

In the Lagoon, Mr. Crocker said things have been quieter than normal. He has responded to one noise complaint so far, but other than that “things have gone well there,” he said. Vineyard Haven has added new navigational buoys in the Lagoon to help boaters safely pass under the drawbridge.

In Edgartown, Mr. Blair said that despite springtime concerns that the season would be quiet, business has remained steady this year.

Tashmoo is a popular place to drop anchor. — Tim Johnson

“The harbor hasn’t really changed,” he said. “Boating is one of the few places that people can load up the family and go someplace.”

The most significant difference this season has been the absence of boats from many of the harbor’s highly coveted permanent moorings, said Mr. Blair. With some boat owners opting to keep their boats out of the water due to pandemic concerns, capacity for the 770 permanent moorings has been down roughly 20 per cent so far this summer, he said.

Business at the harbor’s 100 rental moorings has been mixed. Early in the season, as temperatures warmed and early pandemic restrictions eased, the harbor saw an unexpected spike in business, said Mr. Blair, who reported that the harbor tied more boats to moorings this June than last and continued to see a steady volume of traffic into the weekend of the Fourth and warm weekend days in July.

However, business on the weekdays has slowed, dropping a notch below the usual annual numbers, he said. “It’s definitely quieter. We didn’t turn anybody away, that tells you right away, we’re soft,” he said.

Mr. Blair believes the recent downtick in business is partly a side effect of the pandemic restrictions in place in downtown Edgartown. With bars closed and businesses operating at a fraction of their usual capacities, many transient boaters, who normally dock at the harbor for three or four days, have chosen to shorten their stays.

Influx of boats concerned residents of Cape Pogue. — Jeanna Shepard

“People came and stayed longer the last few years, but Edgartown is only attractive one day. [They] walk up Main street and you see what the deal is — no bars are open, no sitting inside — so they aren’t sticking around,” Mr. Blair said.

But the slack in business has been accompanied by an uptick in the number of day boaters in the harbor, he also said, citing fleets of day-trippers who have begun arriving in Edgartown.

Most recently, on Saturday the harbor reached full capacity, with 150 boats in the main harbor and roughly 70 in the outer harbor — the stretch of water along Chappaquiddick beach, where anchorage is permitted.

In search of open space, other boaters have flocked to Cape Pogue pond to anchor for the day, said Mr. Blair, estimating 100 boats at the wildlife refuge last weekend, and similarly high numbers the weekend before.

The influx of boat traffic has concerned Cape Pogue residents and town officials alike, who noted a steady increase in activity on the pond in recent years. With concerns about protecting the pond’s rich bay scallop beds, the Edgartown selectmen recently voted to inaugurate a committee in the fall to draft a new management plan for the area.

It’s a similar story in Menemsha and Tashmoo, where harbor officials say this year’s hot July weekends have attracted an unusual number of day-trippers.

Boaters have begun congregating in the anchorage area along Lobsterville beach, said Mr. Rossi, who counted at least 30 masts last weekend.

“The harbor was completely full,” he said. “There was very, very heavy boating traffic last Saturday, the biggest I’ve seen.”

In Tashmoo, Mr. Crocker said the number of boaters who anchor for the day on the weekends has continued to swell as in previous summers. Rafting is no longer allowed in Tashmoo but that has not deterred the crowd of boats that cruise over for the day.

“I think it’s amazing, with all the things going on in the world today people are still wanting to get on their boats and go somewhere,” Mr. Crocker said.