Sometime around Labor Day the light begins to noticeably change. It's subtle at first; only recognizable in the hours surrounding dawn and dusk. By the middle of September, however, it becomes obvious even to those not paying attention. Gone is the haze, the glare, the short shadows, and the long summer days.
Block Island in the summer sometimes feels like a spring break inspired theme park for the middle-aged. Old Harbor, with its ferry-terminal, and tipsy balance of Victorian architecture, bars and moped rentals grows too crowded, expensive, and commercialized. The views can be spectacular here, but they often go unnoticed as you weave your way between the taxicabs and foot traffic along Water Street.
In September, the tempo around Old Harbor begins to change. The ferries still run regularly, but the traffic, while steady, is no longer overwhelming. The carnival atmosphere gives way to a working waterfront which reappears from the shadows of waffle cones and Bacardi umbrellas.
Old Harbor once had a sizable commercial fleet, but the Great Depression, combined with the Hurricane of '38 provided a knockout blow. Now, the logistics of an island fishing industry are no longer economically feasible on a large scale. Seafood not sold to local restaurants and inns, needs to be transported again to distribution centers on the mainland. Today the fleet is more modest and specialized.
As the crowds thin however, the island's past image as an outpost in the Atlantic comes back into view. Commercial boats chased away by the limited summer space, will once again use the docks as a convenient layover port. Transoms which read Point Judith, Montauk, and Stonington lie berthed alongside the native fleet.
The light is different this time of year, the boats in the harbor are different too.
Boating Local: Destination Block Island
Providence Journal: Saving Block Island
Boating Local: Old Harbor Bulkhead Repair
Providence Library: Old Harbor Fleet 1930's
Soundbounder: Block Island North Light