The Voyage of the Curlicue

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  In Their Own Words

fter arriving at Kitty Hawk, Wilbur wrote home to his brother Orville and sister Katharine describing his passage with Israel Perry. His description makes it clear that the rotted, leaky, and vermin-infested schooner Curlicue was in all probability a North Carolina "sharpie."  These two-masted sailboats were the workboats of the Albemarle Sound, designed specifically to ply the coastal waters. The shallow draft and flat bottom probably saved Will's bacon when Perry elected to sail over a sand bar to reach safe haven a suicidal maneuver in any other ship.

Despite the discomfort and the terror, Wilbur took the voyage in good stride and good humor. Orv and Kate remarked that his letter was the funniest thing Will ever wrote. Unfortunately, this letter has been lost to us it is not among the Wright papers at the Library of Congress and other archives. We do, however, have the notes that Will made in his personal journal immediately after the voyage, and these are humorous in their own right.

Left Dayton Thurs. eve.7 at 6:30 p.m. over Big Four and C. & O. Arrived at Old Point about six o'clock p.m. the next day, and went over to Norfolk via the steamer Pennsylvania. Put up at the Monticello Hotel. Spent Saturday morning trying to find some spruce for spars of machine, but was unsuccessful. Finally I bought some white pine and had it sawed up at J. E. Etheridge Co. mill. Cumpston Goffigon, the foreman, very accommodating. The weather was near 100 Fahr. and I nearly collapsed.

At 4:30 left for Eliz. City and put up at the Arlington where I spent several days waiting for a boat to Kitty Hawk. No one seemed to know anything about the place or how to get there. At last on Tuesday afternoon I engaged passage with Israel Perry on his fiat-bottom schooner fishing boat.

As it was anchored about three miles down the river we started in his skiff which was loaded almost to the gunwale with three men, my heavy trunk and lumber. The boat leaked very badly and frequently dipped water, but by constant bailing we managed to reach the schooner in safety. The weather was very fine with a light west wind blowing. When I mounted the deck of the larger boat I discovered at a glance that it was in worse condition if possible than the skiff. The sails were rotten, the ropes badly worn and the rudderpost half rotted off, and the cabin so dirty and vermin-infested that I kept out of it from first to last.

The wind became very light, making progress slow. Though we had started immediately after dinner it was almost dark when we passed out of the mouth of the Pasquotank and headed down the sound. The water was much rougher than the light wind would have led us to expect, and Israel spoke of it several times and seemed a little uneasy. After a time the breeze shifted to the south and east and gradually became stronger. The boat was quite unfitted for sailing against a head wind owing to the large size of the cabin, the lack of load, and its flat bottom. The waves which were now running quite high struck the boat from below with a heavy shock and threw it back about as fast as it went forward. The leeway was greater than the headway. The strain of rolling and pitching sprung a leak and this, together with what water came over the bow at times, made it necessary to bail frequently.

At 11 o'clock the wind had increased to a gale and the boat was gradually being driven nearer and nearer the north shore, but as an attempt to turn round would probably have resulted in an upset there seemed nothing else to do but attempt to round the North River light and take refuge behind the point. In a severe gust the foresail was blown loose from the boom and fluttered to leeward with a terrible roar. The boy and I finally succeeded in taking it in though it was rather dangerous work in the dark with the boat rolling so badly. By the time we had reached a position even with the end of the point it became doubtful whether we would be able to round the light, which lay at the end of the bar extending out a quarter of a mile from the shore.

The suspense was ended by another roaring of the canvas as the mainsail also tore loose from the boom, and shook fiercely in the gale. The only chance was to make a straight run over the bar under nothing but a jib, so we took in the mainsail and let the boat swing round stern to the wind. This was a very dangerous maneuver in such a sea but was in some way accomplished without capsizing. The waves were very high on the bar and broke over the stern very badly. Israel had been so long a stranger to the touch of water upon his skin that it affected him very much.

North Carolina sharpies and skiffs moored in the Beaufort, North Carolina harbor.

Looking into the hold of a sharpie.

A sharpie running "wing-and-wing" before the wind.

Looking astern on a sharpie, over the cabin or "cuddy."

The sharpie Iowa tacking into the wind.

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"Aviation is proof that given the will we can do the impossible."
 Eddie Rickenbacker



The Wright Story/Inventing the Airplane/Israel Perry and the Curlicue

Part of a biography of the Wright Brothers
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