We called all three "boats," and we knew them by their sound when they were invisible around the bend, and every inch of their decks and companionways. The crews were our closest friends, their captains our heroes.
Block Island was a sidewheeler with the usual walking beam. She was very noisy in regular cadences as the engine reached the peak and then the low point of its throbbing cycle. The paddlewheel buckets were large and deep, and they scooped up immense quantities of water, creating a heavy wash and leaving behind a very wide wake of foam. Her first stop was always Montville; then came New London, Watch Hill, and at last the Island and a two-hour layover.
Ella was also a paddler, very modest, graceful, and not at all noisy. We could detect her approach with our backs turned, for she had a way of cutting the water with a wash that followed close astern, heralding her approach. She daily got in sight of the ocean at Watch Hill, but was content to remain moored for hours while the passengers bathed and ate at their leisure.
Gypsy was sleek and slippery and noiseless. She would come on us unawares until the engineroom bells signalled a slowdown or a reverse; but the sound was unmistakeable. She was forever stopping and starting - Fort Neck, Stoddard's Wharf, Montville, Gales Ferry, Red Top, New London, Pequot, Ocean Beach, and return. And she was the newest and most efficient of all three. Ella was ancient and slow; Block Island a middle-aged excursion steamer, but swift and sure. We boys delighted in the half-belief that some day she would break asunder at the points where legend said a new section had been inserted to lengthen her.