First Fall Northeaster Buffets Vineyard With Heavy Rains and Blustery Winds

By JOSHUA SABATINI

A late September northeaster hit the Island Saturday and lingered through the weekend, bringing heavy rains and gusty winds and generally upsetting Vineyard life.

The fall fishing derby was effectively put on hold by the high winds, which kept boats at their moorings. Only seven fish were weighed on Sunday, and just four Monday morning.

But as the sun began to peek through the cover of scudding clouds yesterday afternoon, Martha Smith, in charge of the derby weigh-in station, had good news for the competition.

"It is going to get better," said Mrs. Smith. "We are willing to sacrifice a few days. The bad weather is going to bring the bigger fish in and create better conditions for the shore fishermen."

No derby competitors ventured offshore Sunday, but several intrepid anglers decided to navigate just outside the harbor entrances on Saturday, although none had any luck. As yesterday's weather showed signs of clearing, the derby slowly began to return to normal.

Over the weekend, the weather that descended upon the Island was a low-pressure system that moved northward along the eastern seaboard and then stalled. The cold winds and rain tapered off yesterday afternoon. Over the two-day period the Island received, according to the National Weather Service, about an inch of rain. The wind blew at around 20 knots and gusts reached upwards to 35 knots. The weather service forecasted more tranquil weather as a high pressure system builds and comes in from the west.

The Martha's Vineyard Airport experienced no delays and no cancellations due to the storm. Station manager Bill Weibrecht said the airport recorded its highest gusts of wind, 33 miles per hour, on Sunday morning.

Other transportation services were not so lucky. The Chappaquiddick ferry broke down Saturday night. The storm drove in a considerable amount of seaweed that accumulated in the slips, particularly on the Chappy side. The prop on the On Time II was tangled up by the seaweed and brought to a halt.

Owner Roy Hayes said that Saturday night the ferry could not get across the channel. When it pulled into the Chappy slip, at around 8 p.m., seaweed tangled the prop and, when the operator tried to pull out, the clutch broke. From 8 p.m. until 1:30 a.m., operations ceased. Four divers came in and cleared the props and seaweed from the slip. Harbor assistant Michael Hathaway helped by transporting some walk-on passengers. Mr. Hathaway was able to tow the ferry out of the slip and operations began again after 1:30 a.m. The drivers and passengers waiting on either side were accommodated. Mr. Hayes said the customers were understanding and patient.

Mr. Hayes said the storm brought in huge curtains of seaweed. "This is the first time the seaweed has ever affected us," said Mr. Hayes, who became owner in 1988.

The stormy weather also caused an array of service interruptions Sunday on Steamship Authority ferries.

All ferries into Oak Bluffs were diverted to Vineyard Haven, and service was canceled on the passenger ferry Schamonchi out of New Bedford. Tisbury police chief John McCarthy said an increase in manpower was necessary to deal with the SSA traffic surge on Sunday and yesterday.

The freight boat Governor was taken out of service on Sunday and replaced with the Sankaty, a backup freight vessel. Because the Sankaty is smaller and carries fewer cars than the Governor, the standby line was closed in Vineyard Haven all day Sunday. "We were barely able to keep up with the reservations, but by the end of the day most of the excess was taken care of," said SSA acting general manager Wayne Lamson yesterday.

On the Nantucket run, service was canceled on the passenger ferry Flying Cloud. The ferries Nantucket and Eagle each made one round trip between Nantucket and Hyannis in the middle of the day.

Nantucket service was canceled yesterday morning when the Eagle tried to make the 6:30 a.m. trip and experienced trouble backing out of the slip.

On the Vineyard run, all service was still running out of Vineyard Haven yesterday morning, but the standby line remained closed. Mr. Lamson said he expected normal service would return later in the day as the storm moved away from the Islands.

Edgartown harbor master Charlie Blair said, "The storm was not that hard, it was like a typical summer northeaster, not like the ones that come in the winter." More than 10 boats in Edgartown waters were adversely affected by the storm, some sunk and others washed up on shore.

Vineyard Haven harbor master Jay Wilbur said, "Boat owners were lulled into a sense of security because there were no storms during the summer months and this storm was not forecasted well." Mr. Wilbur reported more than five boats damaged by the storm. The largest boat manhandled by the high winds was a 40-foot O'day named North Star. The sailboat was tied to a mooring outside the breakwater. "The boat," said Mr. Wilbur, "miraculously washed up on a stretch of beach, missing the rocks." The sailboat will be towed off, having sustained only minor damage.

Mr. Wilbur related how boaters on a 30-foot motor boat beached their vessel near the Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway after getting caught up in the storm Saturday just after dark. Other boats were not so fortunate. A small boat was blown underneath the West Dock Sunday and wrecked.

Several tree branches were knocked down on Island roadways, but caused little damage. Power outages were sporadic and not for any extended amount of time. Yesterday afternoon, the winds began to ease, and sunshine broke out in the October sky.