The Spray - 79 U.S. 366 (1870)
U.S. Supreme Court
The Spray, 79 U.S. 12 Wall. 366 366 (1870)
79 U.S. (12 Wall.) 366
1. In appeals involving mere question of fact, where the district and circuit courts have taken the same view, this Court, affirming the decree, contents itself with an announcement of its conclusions, without extended comment on the testimony.
2. A vessel racing in order to enter a harbor before another and preoccupy a loading place condemned for a collision resulting.
On the morning of the 4th of March, 1868, the schooners Lane and Spray were proceeding along the coast of California, the Lane bound for Mendocino harbor and the Spray for Little River, a very small harbor, or as it was called in the evidence, a "hole in the coast," about three miles further to the southward. Resort is had by vessels to this place only for the purpose of getting lumber, and the wharfage is so bad that but one vessel can load at a time, considerable detentions as regards vessels not reaching the wharf being the consequence. The Lane was considerably in advance of the Spray. The master of the Lane did not enter Mendocino harbor, as he intended, because of a signal on shore placed there to warn vessels that it would be dangerous to enter the harbor at that time, and accordingly he ran down the coast with the intention of going into Little River. Having accomplished about two-thirds of the distance between the harbors, and finding he was too far in-shore to weather the ledge of rocks which forms the northerly side of the entrance to Little River harbor, he jibbed his mainsail and stood off-shore. In doing this, his main sheet parted, and thereupon he lowered his mainsail, hoisted his foresail, and stood off under his foresail until he could repair the damage. As soon as this was effected he lowered his foresail, wore his vessel around, and stood directly in for the harbor, under mainsail and jib. At this time he was distant from the shore about one and a half miles, and directly off the entrance to the harbor, and the Spray was distant from
the Lane at least five miles, and running three or four times as fast. The master of the Spray, who, it appeared, mistook the Lane for a vessel called the Ellen Adelia, and which he knew was going, as he was himself, after lumber, did not change her course on account of the Lane, and in passing the outer edge of the ledge of rocks, if not over the reef itself, the Spray, owing to the ground swell made by the breakers, collided with the Lane, striking the vessel with her stem, about midships. The course of the vessels and their position with reference to each other will be better understood by stating that, after the Lane headed in to the harbor, she sailed on the side of a right-angled triangle, the Spray upon its hypotenuse, and they met where these joined.
The district court, considering that the collision was caused by an attempt on the part of the Spray to cross the track and get ahead of the Lane, when the latter was too far in advance of her to do so, condemned the Spray, and the circuit court affirmed the decree. From that decree this appeal came.