The Block Island Factor

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 10:30am

“The Block Island Factor is a degree-of-difficulty figure by which one multiplies mainland estimates to achieve Block Island realities. The Factor is always greater than one and may go as high as five depending on one’s ability to adapt to weather, cost, transportation, and isolation.”

This phrase was coined and defined by Charlie Gale and appeared in “The Ocean View” on March 20, 1976. Recently, islander Joe Sprague informed me of something his mom told him once, which is germane to Charlie’s observation. “This island is only twelve miles off the coast, but it may as well be twelve hundred miles.” Right about now I know that you’ve noodled this enough to have your heading bobbing up and down and you’re thinking of your own experiences regarding the aforementioned — you’ve been factored, as it were. Having been working for the Block Island Ferry Company since 1975, I can attest to these to poignant observations — truer words were never spoken. Moreover, as I’m writing this column, there is some sketchy weather in the offing, where said factor could become a factor. Things could get complicated, and the current weather forecast suggests that things probably will. (They did.)

Over decades of working for the ferry company — having worked on the ferries and the docks — in various degrees I have witnessed the Block Island factor in Point Judith pretty much on a daily basis. It’s basically an issue of supply and demand. And it’s, ahem, a weather thing. Archimedes’ principle states: “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” Now I know the sagacity of this very bright guy can be illustrated and agreed upon if we draw a straight line between points A and B on a crispy and pristine piece of white paper; however, sometimes life just doesn’t work out like this — how nice it would be if life were so simple. Getting to and from Block Island can go as smooth as silk, or it can go sideways and result in a loss of: a friend, smartphones, backpacks, keys, wallets, friendships, glasses, books, towels, Tee-shirts, luggage, Kindles and sleep. This tangible list includes things which for the most part can be replaced; however, there are a few things that are a little more complicated. For example, time and money are a bit more complex and they play in more directly to “The Block Island Factor.”

Here is an example of the beginning of a factor that I once experienced. At 0600, a guy shows up in a 35-foot truck and says he has a reservation. I write him up to go check in his rig. The same guy asks if he can get his pick-up truck on standby — he has a driver. So, I write up the truck — simple enough — and the guy is on Archimedes’ track with 10 guys to get from point A to point B. As the boat is now just about loaded, I’m informed by the ticket office that the guy with the truck had booked a full-sized pickup truck and not the 35-foot rig—oops. The clock is ticking. The boat is full; the Captain is at the stern controls. Subsequently, a crew of 10 guys scrambled to get on the ferry — without either vehicle — and now had nothing to work with until said vehicles could be put on the ferry. This is just the beginning of the time and money elements of the Block Island factor. The important thing to note here is to book correct measurements for your rigs and get to the ferry docks an hour before sailing time.

If there is any kind of construction happening on the island, it’s imperative to have materials to work with when they are needed, and weather can be a factor in regards to a contractor’s planning, timing, and execution of certain tasks. If the ferry cancels for one day, this can trigger a series of delays which can affect a job’s completion date, and it can change the bottom line. This can get complicated and result in lost work days — and unexpected stays on Block Island. I once met a guy who had just got contracted to do a particular job and he was a very happy guy. It became very clear to me that he had no clue what The Block Island factor was, but he found out in short order when he realized the impact of the ferry not running — for three days. I didn’t want to poke a hole in his balloon when he got the job, so I said nothing and just wished good on him.

In the summertime, the factor is evident when I work in the stand-by lot in Point Judith. One Sunday there was a terrible crash on I-95 and eight vehicles missed their designated ferry. Fortunately, the fates were kind that day to eight other vehicles that got on the ferry that those delayed folks missed through no fault of their own. Eventually, everyone got to Block Island that day, thereby dodging The Block Island Factor, which takes many forms with many variables: kids, dogs, wives, bicycles, in-laws, et al

Communication is the first defense against getting fetched up in the Block Island factor. Checking the website for weather updates and cancellations make this a fait accompli when one needs to change plans for getting to the island. A few years ago, on a stormy February day, a guy I know who has an island place shows up three hours after we raised the purple flag — it was honking hard from the southeast. He pulls up — perplexed. “Joe, what happened? Where is everybody?” I told him we shut it down three hours earlier. He was crestfallen because he’d just driven three hours in the wind and rain to get to Point Judith. “Why didn’t you call us from a pay phone,” I asked. (This guy doesn’t have a cellphone.) Then, it dawned on me that there are no pay phones — anymore

“Well, I’ll see ya. I guess I’ll go back home.”

“See ya,” I said.