If you hang around North Cape May, you know the first ferry leaves at 7 AM, because it tells you.
The first short toot comes almost always on the dot, as the captain lets the crew know it’s time to go. Shortly afterwards, there’s a long blast followed by three short (more or less, depending on the captain), as the ferry backs out into the canal, getting ready to head over to Delaware.
When there’s a south breeze, the sound is crisp, even loud. The day is going to be seasonably warm in February as the south wind carries some ocean warmth our way. On days when we hear nothing, the breeze is likely from the northeast, foreboding, dark.
In late spring we sometimes hear a long blast every minute or so as the ferry slips through the foggy mist. We’re about a half mile from the beach, often bathed in morning sunlight, when we hear this.
Occasionally, usually in summer when some smaller craft are piloted by folks with more beer than brains in their skulls, five short blasts remind folks that colliding with a ferry is not in anyone’s best interests.