The Elizabeth Jones
112 U.S. 514 (1884)

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U.S. Supreme Court

The Elizabeth Jones, 112 U.S. 514 (1884)

The Elizabeth Jones

Argued November 13, 1884

Decided December 15, 1884.

112 U.S. 514

Syllabus

A schooner was sailing E. by N., with the wind S., and a bark was close-hauled, on the port tack. The schooner sighted the green light of the bark about half a point on the starboard bow, about three miles off, and starboarded a point. At two miles off, she starboarded another point. As

a result, the light of the bark opened about two points. The bark let her sails shake and then filled them twice. The schooner continued to see the green light of the bark till the vessels were within a length of each other, when the bark opened her red light. At the moment the vessels were approaching collision, the schooner put her helm hard a-starboard and headed northeast. At that juncture, the bark ported, and her stem struck the starboard side of the schooner amidships at about a right angle. Held that the bark was in fault and the schooner free from fault.

If the case was one of crossing courses, under article 12 of the Rules prescribed by the Act of April 29, 1884, c. 69, 13 Stat. 58, the schooner being free and the bark close-hauled on the port tack, the bark did not keep her course, as required by article 18, and no cause for a departure existed under article 19, and she neglected precautions required by the special circumstances of the case, within article 20.

The final porting by the bark was not excusable as being done in extremis, because it was not produced by any fault in the schooner.

The decree of the Circuit Court was affirmed, without interest.

On the 12th of August, 1873, James R. Slauson and William R. Pugh filed a libel in admiralty in the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of Illinois against the bark Elizabeth Jones to recover damages for the total loss of the schooner Willis, owned by them, and of the freight money on her cargo, through a collision which occurred between the two vessels shortly before two o'clock A.M. on the 11th of November, 1872, on Lake Erie. The Willis was on a voyage from Chicago to Buffalo with a cargo of barley, and the Jones was bound from Buffalo to Chicago with a cargo of coal.

Page 112 U. S. 515

The libel alleged that the course of the Willis was E. by N., the wind being from the southward, and about S., and about a six-knot breeze; that about 2 o'clock A.M. the lookout reported a green light half a point on the starboard bow of the Willis, and apparently two or three miles distant; that the Willis had the wind free, and the vessel showing the green light, and which afterwards proved to be the Jones, was, to those on board of the Willis, evidently by the wind and close-hauled; that the helm of the Willis was put to starboard, and she went off a point and was steadied; that the Jones came on, still showing her green light, when, in order to give her a wide berth, the helm of the Willis was again put to starboard, and she went off another point and was steadied; that the Jones continued to approach, but apparently not holding her course, keeping away, though still showing her green light only; that the helm of the Willis was put to starboard, and she swung off so as to head N.E.; that about the same time, the Jones showed both her red and green lights; that the Jones immediately came into collision with the Willis, head on, striking her amidships at right angles, crushing in her side, and causing her to sink in a very short time; that had the Jones kept her course, she would have passed the Willis on her starboard hand safely, and that the Jones not only kept away while she was approaching the Willis, but when she had neared the Willis, so that there was imminent danger of colliding, she improperly ported, instead of starboarding her helm.

On the first of October, 1873, the owners of the Jones filed their answer to the libel. It averred that the Willis had the wind free, about a six-knot breeze, from about S.; that the Jones was sailing by the wind, close-hauled; that the Willis discovered the Jones two or three miles distant; that immediately preceding the collision the Willis put her helm to starboard, and the Jones put her helm to port, but in approaching the Willis, the Jones did not change her course until a collision became imminent, and the Willis made no change of course to avoid the Jones except, as before stated, immediately preceding the collision; that the lookout of the Jones discovered what proved to be the light of the Willis from two to four

Page 112 U. S. 516

miles distant; that she

"was approaching the Jones in an opposite direction from the course of the Jones; that, when the light of the Willis was first seen, it was almost dead ahead, and continued on that line as the vessels approached each other;"

"that the Jones was kept steadily on her course until, seeing that there was danger of a collision, her helm was ported, but those in command of the Willis caused her helm to be put to starboard, which threw her across the bows of the Jones and caused the collision, and that it resulted entirely from the fault of the Willis."

On the 4th of October, 1873, the owners of the Jones filed a cross-libel against the Willis to recover for damage caused to the Jones by the collision. It contained substantially the same averments as the answer to the libel of the Willis, adding the fact that the Jones struck the Willis between her fore and main rigging.

The case was heard on pleadings and proofs by the district court in February, 1875, and after the hearing and before a decision, leave being granted to the owners of the Jones to amend their answer and their cross-libel, they filed an amended answer on the eighth of March, 1875. It varied the allegations of the original answer by stating that the Willis discovered the Jones about three miles distant, but did not see the green light of the Jones; that immediately preceding the collision, the Jones began to put her helm to port, but, seeing that the Willis was starboarding her helm, immediately changed it to starboard; that the lookout of the Jones discovered, about half a point on his port bow, and three miles off, the red light of a vessel that proved to be the Willis; that after the light of the Willis was first seen, it continued to show more on the port bow of the Jones; that the Jones was kept on her course until immediately before the collision, when she began to port her helm, but, seeing that the Willis was starboarding her helm, immediately changed it to starboard, but the Willis continued to starboard her helm, which threw her across the bows of the Jones, and that the starboard bow of the Jones came in contact with the starboard side of the Willis about amidships. On the same day, the owners of the Jones filed an amended

Page 112 U. S. 517

cross-libel, containing substantially the same averments as the amended answer, in variation of those in the original cross-libel. The original libel was, by stipulation, made the answer to the cross-libel.

In July, 1875, the district court entered a decree finding that the Willis was in fault, dismissing her libel, pronouncing for the libellants in the cross-libel and awarding to them $1,500 damages. The owners of the Willis appealed to the circuit court. In August, 1881, that court entered a decree finding that the Jones was in fault, reversing the decree of the district court, dismissing the cross-libel, pronouncing for the libellants in the original libel, and awarding to them $32,826.75 for damages, and interest. From that decree the owners of the Jones have appealed to this Court.

The circuit court filed the following findings of fact:

"First. That on the 11th day of November, 1872, a collision occurred between the schooner Willis and the bark Elizabeth Jones on Lake Erie at about 16 miles east of Point an Pelee. The libellant, the schooner Willis, was bound for Buffalo; the respondent, the bark Jones, was bound for Chicago. The vessels collided at a quarter before 2 in the morning. The Willis was sailing E. by N. The bark was sailing a general course S.W. by W. 1/2 W., steering by the wind. The wind was S., about a six-knot breeze at the time of the collision. Previous to the collision, it had been S.E. picking up to the westward. At 12 o'clock, the wind was E. At 20 minutes after 1 it was S.E. At the time of the collision it was S. The Willis had the wind free, and the bark was close-hauled on the port tack. Both vessels had their proper lights and watch on deck. The vessels were between two and four miles apart when they sighted each other's lights. The night, though it occasionally clouded up, was favorable, and light enough to make objects easily discernible for two or three miles. The schooner was laden with a cargo of barley and the bark with a cargo of coal. When the vessels collided, the starboard side of the stem of the bark struck the schooner on the starboard side between the fore and main rigging -- struck her amidships at about

Page 112 U. S. 518

right angles on the starboard side. The schooner and her cargo sank in less than half an hour and was a total loss. The injury sustained by the Jones was fixed in the decree of the district court at $1,500."

"Second. The officers and men of the schooner Willis first sighted the green light of the bark Jones about half a point off the schooner's starboard bow at a distance of about three miles off, and continued to see the green light of the Jones until the vessels were within a length of each other, when the Jones opened her red light."

"Third. The helm of the Willis, as soon as the light of the Jones appeared, was at once put to starboard, and she went off a point and then steadied, the light of the Jones thereupon opening about a point and a half. When about two miles distant, the helm of the Willis was again put to starboard a point, and then steadied, the light of the Jones thereupon opening about two points."

"Fourth. That the mate in command of the Jones gave the following order immediately after first sighting the light of the Willis:"

" I went aft to the man at the wheel to see how she was headed, and her sails were then kind of shaking. I told him to 'look out and keep the sails full.' Then I went forward again. By the time I got forward, the sails was lifting. Again I told him to keep the sails full -- 'draw up and keep the sails full.' "

"Fifth. At the moment the vessels were approaching collision, the helm of the Willis was put hard a-starboard, and she must have swung so as to head N.E. and thus have exposed her starboard side. At this juncture, the Jones ported her helm, and the vessels collided, the stem of the Jones striking the Willis amidships on the starboard side."

The circuit court also filed the following conclusions of law:

"First. The court finds as a conclusion of law that this case falls under the 12th article of the regulations for preventing collisions at sea, applicable to the navigation of vessels."

"Second. That the bark Jones being close-hauled and the schooner Willis being free, it became the duty of the Willis to

Page 112 U. S. 519

keep out of the way, and she, having come into collision, must show why she did not discharge that duty and avoid the collision."

"Third. The court finds as a matter of law that each of the changes heretofore recited in the findings of fact as having been made by the Jones was improper."

"Fourth. The court also finds as a matter of law that the changes recited in the findings of fact as having been made by the Willis were proper."

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