Originally published June 13, 2015, prior to re-launching my writing career…
My younger sister’s visit to Rhode Island this week predisposed me to write a blog/memoir about our first excursion to Block Island a little over 50 years ago! As the family trudged up the stairs to Champlin’s, one of the more popular seafood shacks in Galilee overlooking the landing docks where one can view the ferries arriving from and departing to Block Island, overcast skies, biting breezes, and bone-chilling dampness prompted my sister to announce, “This reminds me of our trip to Block Island!”
Having already written and published 100 memoirs pertaining to my childhood and adolescence during the Sixties, I don’t know why I hadn’t navigated the choppy waters to a mariner’s destination that made The Nature Conservancy’s list of twelve sites in the Western Hemisphere entitled, “The Last Great Places.”
From the viewpoints of a six-year old and thirteen-year old, Block Island would have been the last place we’d ever want to visit again …
During my father’s two-week summer vacation when we’d embark on road trips strapped inside our Plymouth Suburban station wagon, we were at a loss for a venue on that overcast, chilly, damp day. Whatever possessed my dad to suggest a trip to Block Island via a ferry from Port o’ Providence, I’ll never know. None of us were dressed for the elements to endure a four-hour excursion each way aboard the Nelesco.
My father, sister, and I talked our mother into settling on the lower deck. Prone to seasickness, she leaned against the ferry wall, struggling to keep breakfast down the hatch, while the three of us stood against the railing to see what we could discern along the receding shoreline through the fog. The sea was relatively calm from Providence to Newport where other passengers clambered aboard as freight was loaded by a bunch of brawny, swarthy, societal misfits. While docked in Newport, my sister and I got a kick out of the divers who would fetch coins thrown overboard by the passengers and hold them up as proof of their panhandling prowess.
The next two hours from Newport to Block Island on the high sea with nothing to see but murky water everywhere became Misery on the Nelesco. Besides shivering uncontrollably in our short sleeves and shorts, we couldn’t steady ourselves on our feet as the ferry pitched back and forth in the brine. Like drunkards, we staggered inside and flopped on a bench along the inside wall. It didn’t surprise me that the piano was chained to one of the poles. My mother fared even worse inside, claiming the erratic horizon line of the waves viewed through the port holes made her dizzy. Dizzy or not, she’d end up making several trips to the head with my sister who suddenly developed a severe case of the d’s.
Finally making landfall on Block Island which wasn’t really an idyllic paradise back then, but a honky-tonk hole up, we foraged for a place to eat. Even though I’d worked up an appetite from the sea air, I nibbled at the clam cakes coated in orange batter which tasted lousy. From that point on, we had another four hour excursion to get home. Walking the gangplank was not an option.
Today, one can board the 55-minute traditional ferry or 30-minute high-speed ferry from Pt. Judith to Block Island. Only the high-speed ferry is available from Newport and Fall River. Ironically, there are no more ferries running from Providence to Block Island. In retrospect, my sister and I harbor fond memories tempest-tossed in misery on the Nelesco.
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