The Voyage of
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Their Own Words
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
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
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