If you’ve had a chance to shop for NASCAR tickets lately, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that attending races is a lot more expensive than it was a decade or two ago. One could theorize that more affluent Americans took to the sport and drove prices up, but another theory is that – depressing macro-economic statistics notwithstanding – many salt-of-the-earth, working-class Americans are doing quite well financially and that NASCAR ticket prices have followed in the steps of their good fortune.
As a venue, Block Island would strongly support the second theory. This locale is egalitarian yachting at its finest, with the character of the crowd strongly suggesting ‘electrical contractor made good’ as opposed to ‘hedge fund manager on break.’ It seems that more than a few middle Americans have done well enough to buy boats, many of which look anything but cheap. Still, for all the displays of Sundancer affluence, not a pair of Nantucket Reds is to be seen in the Block Island crowd, and a crooked, decades-old Chris Craft plaque is more likely to be encountered while walking the docks than a glistening, varnished Hinkley Talaria. Tune in to VHF channel 12 on your way in – as the locals do every day when the private moorings become available – for a sense of the prevailing culture. It’s festive, rum-soaked fun and visiting cruisers would do well not to take themselves too seriously. We enjoyed the hell out of the whole scene.
We found it interesting that so many power boaters frequent Block Island given the lumpy sea conditions we’ve encountered traveling too and from. Saturday we saw southwest winds in the 15-19 knot apparent range and a big ocean swell (the video below was taken on the more favorable starboard tack) made for very challenging close-hauled sailing conditions.
We started out with a reef and jib cars pulled back but found ourselves starving for power in the lulls, so we shook the reef and tuned for a fuller jib. Both measures helped but our 4 1/2 hour beat to the island still ranks highly among the times we’ve struggled to keep our speeds up without reaching off and losing too much progress to weather.
The challenging sail made our arrival in Great Salt Pond all that much more rewarding and amply reminded me why it is so much more fun to ‘win’ a destination like Block Island by sail rather than power. Plus we couldn’t help wonder how rough the ride would have been on a power boat in the same conditions.
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself on a Great Salt Pond mooring on a clear night with a brisk southwesterly, expect to enjoy a couple of extra treats we enjoyed: nice, clear star-gazing and the heavenly sound of waves crashing on the westerly shore of the island as you drift off to sleep in a perfectly calm sea state.
We had such a great experience visiting Block Island that we plan to return this coming weekend. It’s now at the top of my list of the best destinations we’ve seen so far this summer.