Block Island, famous for bluefish and striped bass, is a seven-by-three-mile, pork-chop-shaped wedge of ocean vistas and pond-dotted moors. The island lies 10 miles southeast of Point Judith, R.I., with the thin portion of the chop facing north. Point Judith is where you catch the ferry in the off-season, the best time to visit Block Island, especially if you fancy yourself a character in a Gothic novel. The island is perfect for brooding now, for silent stares at shuttered old hotels, where the year is always 1898. Signless dirt paths beckon the visitor through empty fields to the ever-changing shore, where the surfcaster will find the fall waters full of blues and bass. At this season the thickets abound with warblers, vireos and thrushes, while other exotic creatures—call them American Gothics—debark from the ferry to roam the russet moors and lean against the wind.
Only two lodgings are open year round on Block Island, the Gables Inn, a rooming house, and Neptune House, which has housekeeping apartments. The local night life can be found at Finn's Bar, a tiny, one-room establishment where a visitor asked recently, "What do you talk about here in winter?"
"Storms," he was told.
When summer wanes, the tourists and most residents go back to the mainland, leaving behind a crusty, insular breed, some 500 strong. Idle words are distributed to strangers like lobsters at a $2.50 buffet, so if you visit in fall or winter, take along a good friend.
You should also bring an automobile, because the countryside provides the best entertainment. Bicycles and mopeds are available for rental until the snow falls, but they can be uncomfortable in a northeast storm. Drive along the southeast shore, peering through the mist at an endless web of stone walls, to the imposing spectacle of Monhegan Bluffs. The bluffs extend westward for six miles, tumbling to a moonscape of a beach marked by giant boulders in the surf and deep coves with rocky points. Here, it is easy to pass an hour or two, especially if you're a surf fisherman, staring trancelike at the sea.
The western shore of Block Island is low but equally compelling, and at the island's northern tip lies Sandy Point, where a wild rip extending miles out to sea has spelled doom for hundreds of ships. Like all of the island, it is a place of legends and spirits, of phantom ships and endless moor. The time to appreciate this romantic aspect of Block Island is now.