Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Curlicue

As nearly everyone knows, Wilbur and Orville Wright, bicycle enthusiasts and remarkable innovators, accomplished the first controlled, powered, sustained heavier-than-air flight, on December 17, 1903, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

The Wright brothers hailed from Dayton, Ohio, but traveled to the Outer Banks because the wind and terrain were more suitable for their flight experiments. You might think that soaring above the ground (even at just 10 feet of altitude) was a dangerous undertaking, but simply getting to Kitty Hawk in the first years of the 20th century was quite risky, as Wilbur's September, 1900, journal illustrates. A few excerpts:

"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 [the Curlicue]."

"The [skiff that took Wilbur to the fishing 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 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."

"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."

"[There was] 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."

You can read the entire journal entry here:

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is Part II of Crystal Canterbury's account of her first visit to Portsmouth Island. You can read it here:


  1. Bill Walker7:09 AM

    Thanks for digging up and sharing stuff like this.

  2. Julie S.7:35 AM

    Makes one appreciate the well cared for and captained ferries!