The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARSH
Libelant claims he saved two barges and a cargo of 600 tons of coal from impending peril or loss, and brings this action for a salvage award.
The court has jurisdiction in admiralty of the parties and cause of action.
On that day, about 12:30 o'clock P.M., these barges slipped from their moorings at the Serodino loading dock near the Village of Guild, Marion County, Tennessee, on the Tennessee River, a navigable river with a 9-foot navigable channel.
One end of barge Z408 was loaded with 600 tons of coal worth $ 2,550; the other barge was empty. Each was 175 feet long, 26 feet wide, and 11 feet deep. They were lashed together abreast as they started to drift. No proof was offered of their value.
Libelant, Leedert Heuval, owned an all-steel, twin-screw, cabin cruiser 'Rob-Marie', 46 feet long and 12 feet wide at the stern; two marine motors, each of 100 horsepower, provided the power. The approximate value of this craft was $ 5,000.
The Serodino loading dock was situated about 300 feet upstream from the river dock where Heuval's cruiser was moored; both docks were on the left downstream side of the river.
At the time aforementioned the river was in a low pool stage. The current was slowly flowing at a speed estimated on behalf of respondents at 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 and by libelant at 3 to 4 miles per hour. The weather was fair and calm. The river in the vicinity varied from 600 to 775 feet wide. The navigable channel was located nearer to the right bank looking downstream.
When the barges broke away, Raymond Barber, an employee of the charteree, boarded them. He promptly called a warning to libelant and others who were at libelant's river dock. The libelant, upon being alerted and believing that Barber also asked for help, immediately put out in the 'Rob-Marie' to the rescue. Aboard were Albert McRae, a house guest of libelant, and one Curt Pyburn, a former deckhand of 3-months' experience. Also putting out from this dock in their outboard motors were Roy Ralston and Arnold Yound.
Neither side produced Pyburn, Ralston, or Young as witnesses nor took their depositions, thus requiring the court to find the facts from the testimony of Heuval and his guest McRae on the one side, and the testimony of Barber, William Pachoud, a foreman of V. P. Serodino, Inc., and Charles Zubik, respondent, on the other side; all of these witnesses were partial and interested. Many of the factual details and opinions of those on one side were gainsaid by those on the other.
Substantial agreement, however, is found as to the following facts. Libelant, in an effort to capture the drifting barges and tow them back to the loading dock, cruised alongside and Pyburn threw a one-half inch hemp line over a timberhead on the partially loaded barge. At this point the lashed barges were drifting downstream broadside with the loaded barge on the downstream side. The hemp line used parted several times. A heavier line was secured
and made fast to the head of the loaded barge. Although this line was of sufficient strength, libelant was unable to tow the barges upstream; at most he was able to retard their progress downstream for a period of time.
There was no contention or evidence that Serodino's employees (Barber on the barges and Pachoud at the loading dock) protested against libelant's efforts to recapture the barges and tow them back to their dock; in fact, Barber, at least tacitly, accepted the help offered and participated in untying the lines lashing the barges together.
Libelant's maneuver in separating the barges is the only impressive evidence of especial judgment and skill on his part to save the barges from possible damage and danger of sinking. This operation was premised on his belief that rocks were present on the shores, which fact is sharply disputed. However, respondent's witness, Barber, agrees that there were rock hazards downstream and that 'we got stopped in time' (T. 127).
The evidence is contradictory as to the other facts litigated. I find, however, that libelant prior to separating the barges was towing them diagonally downstream towards the right shore, and had developed momentum sufficient to enable the empty to drift to that shore after it was cut loose. There Ralston in his outboard was able to hold it. Libelant then pulled or pushed the loaded barge with the aid of the current toward the left shore at the bend in the river, where it was tied to a tree by Pyburn. The time consumed by libelant in his efforts was about 3 hours. I further find that rocks and other hazards
existed along the downstream shore ...