Annotate this Case
76 U.S. 522 (1869)
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U.S. Supreme Court
The Alleghany, 76 U.S. 9 Wall. 522 522 (1869)
76 U.S. (9 Wall.) 522
A steam vessel entering a short, narrow, and artificial channel, in some parts shoal, such as the "Straight Cut" at Milwaukee, in which it is liable to meet tugs coming from the other end with tows, is bound to exercise caution as to the way it enters and proceeds and to have and keep itself, both as to course and rate and speed, entirely under control.
The owners of the schooner Winslow libeled the propeller Alleghany in the District Court for Wisconsin, to recover compensation for a collision by which the schooner had been greatly injured and sunk. The catastrophe occurred on a mild morning of May, when there was no wind, and nothing to obstruct the vision of those who had charge of the propeller, in what is known as the "Straight Cut" at Milwaukee, a sort of canal which makes the harbor entrance from the Milwaukee River to Lake Michigan, and of which an idea will perhaps be conveyed by a diagram on page <|76 U.S. 523|>523.
Although the testimony was in some particulars very conflicting, the controlling facts were either admitted in the answer, or were satisfactorily proved.
The cut is eleven hundred and fifty feet in length, and about two hundred and sixty feet in width between its piers. Its course is from east to west, and it enters the river nearly at right angles. At its west end, though between the piers, there is a bar extending inward from the north pier toward the middle of the cut, and, of course, reducing the depth of the water. The schooner had left her dock in the river, and she was proceeding out through the cut into the lake, in tow of the steam tug Muir, and about twenty-five feet astern of the tug. Shortly after leaving the dock, the propeller was seen entering the eastern end of the cut from the lake, and the tug signaled to her by one whistle to keep to the starboard or north side. To this signal the propeller responded by a similar signal, thus announcing an intention to pass the tug and the schooner on their port side. A second signal
to the same effect was given by the tug when the vessels were nearer each other, but to this no answer was returned.
The collision took place shortly after, soon after the tug had entered the cut, when she was still headed toward the south pier, and before she had been able to straighten out her tow. The exact place of the collision was not certainly established, but it was clearly south of the middle of the cut, and not far from its western entrance. Its effect was to break in the bow of the schooner, and sink her in fifteen minutes. The propeller entered the cut at a high rate of speed. She had been racing on the lake to reach the entrance in advance of another vessel, and, according to the answer made to the libel, she was running eight miles an hour when she entered. She did not shut off her steam at all until within half her length of the piers, and then only partially. Her steam was
not entirely shut off until she had proceeded a considerable distance within the cut. She steered wildly, not obeying her helm. Her speed was too great for proper steering in shallow water, considering her draught. She kept on, however, in the middle, between the piers, instead of stopping or moving to the north side of the cut, as she had signified her intention to move by her answer to the tug's signal.
The district court decreed against the propeller, and on appeal the circuit court did the same.
Her owners now appealed to this Court.