Schooner Catharine v. Dickinson

Schooner Catharine v. Dickinson by Samuel Nelson
Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

58 U.S. 170

Schooner Catharine  v.  Dickinson

THIS was an appeal in admiralty, from a decree of the circuit court of the United States for the southern district of New York.

It was a case of collision which took place on the 21st of April, 1853, near Squam Beach, between the schooner San Louis, on a voyage from Jersey City to Philadelphia, and the schooner Catharine, bound to New York.

The facts in the case are stated in the opinion of the court.

It was argued by Mr. Cutting, for the appellants, and submitted on a printed argument by Mr. Field, for the appellees.

The points made on behalf of the appellants were:--

1. No proper or sufficient look-out was kept on board of The San Louis; and she neither carried nor showed nay light.

2. Although the witnesses on board of The San Louis contradict each other in the most material facts, the conclusion from all the evidence is, that the man at the wheel, instead of keeping his course, or keeping away, undertook to cross the bows of The Catharine; whatever may have been his object, he improperly luffed, and brought The San Louis into the wind, directly athwart the bows of The Catharine, and thus produced the collision.

3. The Catharine was in the act of reefing, and had the lookout usual in that trade when reducing sail.

4. The rule of damages is erroneous. The Catharine was liable, in rem, for the damage directly occasioned by the collision. Instead of being condemned for the expenses of getting The San Louis afloat, and the cost of repairs, she is charged with the full value of The San Louis, less only a trifling sum, for which her owners, without notice to the appellants, sold and transferred her.

Mr. Field made the following points:--

I. It is established by the proofs, that The San Louis was sailing down the coast closehauled to the wind, having her starboard tacks on board, and that The Catharine was at the leeward, coming up the coast, with the wind free, having her larboard tacks on board; that The Catharine had no look-out; that her crew were engaged in reefing, and had been engaged for twenty minutes or half an hour, during which time the look-out was not kept; that the captain took the wheel at eight o'clock, but left it alone once or twice; that the course of The San Louis was not changed until the collision was inevitable, when the mate put the wheel down, hoping to lessen the blow, but the time was too short for the vessel to feel the change; that the course of The Catharine was changed, so as to bring her head more towards the shore, and that she then ran into and destroyed The San Louis.

II. When one vessel runs into another, the presumption is that the colliding vessel is in fault.

III. In this case, not only is this presumption not repelled, but there are several other reasons positively shown, why The Catharine and her master should be held responsible for the collision.

1. She had the wind free, and her larboard tacks on board, and according to well settled rules, should have given way for The San Louis, which was closehauled, and had her starboard tacks on board. If The Catharine had then given way, the collision would not have happened. St. John v. Paine, 10 How. 581.

2. Even if the Catharine had kept on her course, the collision would not have happened; but her course being altered by heading more towards the shore, she struck The San Louis with full head on.

3. If The Catharine had had a look-out, The San Louis would have been seen, (for it is certain that vessels could be seen at least half a mile,) and the collision would not have happened. It is no excuse to say that The Catharine was reefing, and therefore had a right to call away her look-out, for the preponderance of testimony, as well as the dictates of prudence, show that the look-out must be kept even when reefing, especially in a place crowded with vessels; and, besides, The Catharine had no sufficient cause for reefing. The wind did not require it, and she was reefing merely to avoid getting to Sandy Hook before morning.

4. If the master of The Catharine had not left her helm, it is probable the collision would not have happened. To abandon the helm, as he is proved by his own witnesses to have done, once or twice, was an act of inexcusable carelessness.

5. The appellant case assumes certain facts which are entirely unfounded.

IV. Any of the foregoing reasons was sufficient to entitle the libellants to judgment in their favor.

1. The San Louis did not luff 'across The Catharine's bows.' The helm of The San Louis was not put down until the moment before the collision, when it was inevitable that The Catharine would strike her. This is the positive testimony of the mate, Mr. Williams, who held the helm, and who, of course, knew. Mesick was forward, and could not know the fact as accurately as the mate. Besides, Mr. Williams says, The San Louis had scarcely felt the movement of the wheel, when the Catharine struck her. Capt. Goodspeed's evidence refers only to the time when the two vessels were together so completely that they seemed to be but one.

2. The San Louis was not heading off the shore. She was pointing her bows in shore; though she constantly fell off bodily, her head was for the land. It was impossible, therefore, that The Catharine should get round to her starboard side. If The San Louis had pointed her bows off the shore, she would have had the wind abeam. All the testimony shows, that she was closehauled to the wind, and therefore moving on a line forming an acute angle with the line of The Catharine, the angle opening towards the shore.

3. The Catharine was not 'to windward of The San Louis.' The 4th allegation of the libel states that The San Louis was inside of The Catharine at the time of the collision. This is not denied by the answer. And according to the proofs, The San Louis, at 8 o'clock, must have been from half a mile to a mile to the windward of The Catharine.

Mr. Justice NELSON delivered the opinion of the court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).