The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Arabia (Propeller), U105254, collision, 23 Oct 1886

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The schooner SAMUEL J. TILDEN, anchored in the St. Clair River, below Sanborn's elevator was rammed and sunk by the steamer ARABIA at Midnight Saturday. Her masts are above water where she lies in 30 feet of water. She was built in Cleveland by Quayle & Martin in 1869, and owned by Bradley of Cleveland. She is broadside to the current and difficult to be raised.
      Port Huron Daily Times
      Monday, October 25, 1886

Port Huron.---The wreck of the TILDEN is nearing the surface now every minute. She would have been pumped out before this, but the want of lifting screws has delayed them about a week.
      The Marine Record
      Thurs. Oct. 27, 1887 p. 5

The sunken schooner SANUEL J. TILDEN was raised today, after being on the bottom of the St. Clair River, just below the city for a year. She will be towed to the Wolverine Dry Dock to be repaired.
      Port Huron Daily Times
      Friday, October 28, 1887

      Cleveland.---The Bradley Transportation Company and others have filed a libel in the United States district court against the Western Transit Company of New York for $34,827:50 damages by collision between the defendant's steamer ARABIA and the libelants' dchooner S.J. TILDEN. October 23, 1886, near Port Huron. The petition says the TILDEN was at anchor waiting for the J.S. FAY to tow her to Cleveland. Shortly before midnight as the schooner was about to be taken in tow by the FAY, the propeller ARABIA, bound up, ran into the TILDEN, striking her on the starboard side with such force as to crush through her keel and sink her immediately. The value of the TILDEN, which was a total loss, is set at $29,000. The Cleveland Iron Mining Company, which owned the cargo of iron ore, claims $3,037:50. The libelants also claim $1,890 for freight, which would have been received on delivery of the cargo. A warrant of arrest was issued on this libel under which Deputy United States Marshal George Wyman attached the steamer EMPIRE STATE as the property of the defendant. A bond in $50,000 was at once given by H.M. Hanna, M.A. Hanna and L.C. Hanna, and the steamer was released from custody.
      The Marine Record
      Thurs. June 16, 1887 p.1

      . . . . .

      Bradley Transportation Company Vs. Western Transit Company.
The second opinion given out by judge Ricks has reference to a case that was very carefully tried, and which involved a number of points of special interest to lake vessel masters. It was a libel filed by the Bradley Transportation Company of Cleveland against the Western Transit Company of Buffalo, to recover damages for the loss of the schooner TILDEN, which was sunk in the St. Clair river on the night of Oct. 23, 1886, by the steamer ARABIA. The ARABIA was found wholly at fault. The TILDEN was raised sometime after the collision and is now owned by Edward Smith and others of Buffalo. H.D. Goulder was counsel for the Bradley estate in this case, and the ARABIA was represented by G. B. Hebbard of Buffalo and the late Henry S. Sherman of Cleveland.
On the night of the accident, the TILDEN, loaded with ore, was anchored below the middle ground, waiting for the steamer FAY with the schooner RHODES to come down and pick her up. The FAY, with the RHODES in tow, had rounded-to with a starboard helm, head up stream, and after the tow line had been passed and made fast from the RHODES to the TILDEN, the FAY was engaged in straightening up the head of the RHODES, which had sagged out into the channel. While the RHODES had sagged out into the river, her red light showed, so that the master of the ARABIA, coming down the river, about seven-eighths to a mile distant, claims that he saw only her red light. The master of the FAY claims that as soon as he saw the ARABIA coming down, some seven-eighths to a mile distant, he gave her two blasts of the whistle. She was then about opposite the Sarnia elevator. The ARABIA continued on her course, observing only the red light of the RHODES and assuming her to be an-independent sailing vessel approaching the Canada shore. A second blast of two whistles was blown by the FAY and it was answered by the ARABIA with two blasts. Notwithstanding these signals, and the response thereto, the ARABIA continued her course, apparently heading direct for the RHODES. As she was about abreast of the FAY, the master says he gave several sharp, short whistles, and called out to the vessel:" Starboard! Why don't you starboard and keep clear of my vessels?" Immediately the master of the FAY says he heard a sharp loud cry on board the Arabia, as follows: "Starboard, man, starboard! Why don't you starboard? " At this time the ARABIA was heading for the RHODES, and instead of starboarding he ported and crossed the RHODES' bows. just as he caught the RHODES' bows, the tow line of the RHODES was let go. Immediately afterwards the collision between the ARABIA and the TILDEN took place. This is a brief statement of the manner in which the accident occurred.
The libelant charged that the collision was solely the cause of the gross negligence of the master of the ARABIA in going at full speed in the midst of these three vessels when he had fully 1,200 feet of clear water between the RHODES and the Canada side; that the usual and main channel for heavy vessels going down the river was to go towards the Canada side, and that if the ARABIA had taken her usual course, she would not have passed within 600 to 800 feet of the FAY and her tow. It was claimed on behalf of the ARABIA that there was no negligence; that when her master saw the red light of the RHODES he had a right to assume that she was an independent vessel sailing for the Canada shore; that the master of the ARABIA had no right to assume that this vessel with a red light was a part of a tow of the steamer FAY, which was showing two white lights at her mast-head.
"A few important facts are clearly established by the preponderance of testimony in favor of the libelant," says the court. The first of these is that the TILDEN was anchored in the usual and safe place in the St. Clair river. She was about 340 feet from the dock and some 380 feet from the American shore. The river was 1,900 feet wide opposite the place where the anchor was found, and 1,650 feet wide a little above the middle ground. In 1886, the year of this accident, the main channel of the river was on the Canada side. The TILDEN was showing a bright anchor light; the steamer FAY was showing two white masthead lights, indicating that she had a tow, and the usual red and green lights; and the RHODES, having been in tow, had the usual red and green side lights. With these facts established, ship and tug are one vessel. The masthead lights of the FAY should have indicated to the master of the ARABIA that there was a steamer there in tow, and while this may not have been notice to him that the steamer had more than one vessel in tow, yet the fact that a third vessel was near by, showing an anchor light, and that the place where this anchor light was shown was a customary place for vessels to anchor in waiting to be towed, should have put him on his inquiry as to what relation the vessel with the anchor sustained to the steamer and her tow. He had an abundance of time and opportunity to decide this question. He was going at a speed. according to the witnesses, varying from 12 to 17 miles an hour, so that he was about four minutes running from the Sarnia elevator to where he collided with the TILDEN. During this time, it was clearly his duty to have watched the lights of these three vessels, and to have determined from their movements what their relation to each other were. If in running at the speed he claims the time was not sufficient for him to solve this question, he should have checked the speed of his vessel in order to clearly determine where his proper course lay with reference to the FAY and her tow. The evidence is overwhelming that the red light of the RHODES, which the master of the ARABIA thought was a light on an independent vessel sailing for Canada, did not materially change its position during the time he was heading for her. instead of drawing near to the Canada shore, this red light drew nearer to the American shore, as the FAY was straightening the RHODES up with the stream.
"The only contention of the ARABIA's counsel which has any foundation on the facts, is that the master of the ARABIA had the right to accept the red light of the RHODES as indicating that she was an independent vessel moving towards the Canada shore. Assuming this to be true, at the time when it was first seen, it was nevertheless clearly the duty of the master of the ARABIA to have continued watching that red light in order to determine whether his first opinion was right. But he must have failed to do this. In fact he substantially states and admits that he acted on his first impression, and that he did not give much attention or consideration to the movement of the red light. Even after the two signals had been given him he had abundance of time to have cleared the tow by keeping his vessel in the main channel. A number of witnesses gave it as their opinion that he could have still escaped the tow even after the danger signals were given.
"The preponderance of testimony is that the sail on the RHODES was furled. The masters of the FAY and the RHODES, and all the witnesses on those vessels who were examined, testified positively that the sails were furled before they entered the St. Clair river. It is contended that there was carelessness on the part of the master of the FAY in maneuvering at the time he took up the TILDEN, but the majority of experts who have been examined on this subject testify that the maneuvers of the FAY were proper and usual under such circumstances. There is some testimony offered by the respondent tending to show that the TILDEN should have displayed her torch as a signal of danger, and that the RHODES should have done likewise. The anchor light of the TILDEN was in itself a signal that she was at a position of rest, and this signal protected her, according to the rules of admiralty, from any collision with a moving vessel. When such collision occurred, the burden of proof is on the steamer to show that she was free from fault. Many masters of long experience testified that they would not have looked for a torch upon either the TILDEN or the RHODES, and that the absence of such a torch would not, in their judgement judgement, excuse a steamer from running into the midst of vessels grouped as these vessels were under the circumstances as stated."
      An appeal will very probably be made in this case also.
      Marine Review
      August 1, 1895
Steam screw ARABIA. U. S. No. 105254. Of 1,395.48 tons gross; 1,202.28 tons net. Built Buffalo, N.Y., 1873. Home port, Buffalo, N.Y. 221.8 x 34.5 x 14.2 Of 480 nominal horsepower.
      Merchant Vessel List, U. S., 1895

Media Type:
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Reason: collision
Lives: nil
Remarks: Uninjured
Date of Original:
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Geographic Coverage:
  • Michigan, United States
    Latitude: 42.97086 Longitude: -82.42491
William R. McNeil
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Arabia (Propeller), U105254, collision, 23 Oct 1886