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KORPI v. UNITED STATES

February 26, 1997

GLEN KORPI, Plaintiff, -vs- UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: LANGFORD

 I. INTRODUCTION

 The morning of June 5, 1995, Plaintiff Glen Korpi was sailing his sailboat Dialogue south along the California coast, in the vicinity of the Monterey Peninsula. By mid-afternoon, he had been plucked from the surf off Asilomar State Beach, California by a United States Coast Guard helicopter, and the Dialogue had grounded on the rocks.

 Mr. Korpi contends that he was safely anchored, seaward of the surf line. He himself was in no distress, but his self-steering had broken and his engine had stopped running, due to either lack of fuel or a clogged fuel filter. All he needed was a tow into Monterey Harbor, so he could make repairs.

 He believes that the crew of the Coast Guard motor lifeboat (MLB) endangered his life and lost his boat by forcing him to cut his anchor line, before attempting to pass him a towline and taking his boat in tow. The attempt was unsuccessful, and, although he himself escaped with minor injuries, his boat was lost.

 The Coast Guard paints a different picture: of a lost sailor, trapped on a lee shore *fn1" , in gale conditions and confused seas, being blown toward the rocks, dragging anchor toward inevitable doom. After Korpi radioed for assistance, they arrived to find a boat moving constantly on its anchor line, in danger of crashing into the MLB, or having the MLB dropped on it by a wave. The crew and its commander, experienced in search and rescue, weighed all the circumstances, and decided on the safest course of action, for both boats: get rid of the Dialogue's anchor line, so it wouldn't foul the MLB's propellers; pass a heaving line with towline attached, and tow the sailboat to safety. But Mr. Korpi couldn't help. He couldn't get the towline aboard and so the lighter heaving line snapped and the boat quickly crashed on the rocks. Although the sailboat and most of its equipment was lost, no one was killed, or seriously injured.

 Mr. Korpi brought an action against the United States for personal injury, loss of his vessel, and the costs of wreck removal.

 The United States denied liability.

 The parties consented to a trial before a magistrate judge. The case was tried by the court on November 18 through 21, 1996. Appearing for Plaintiff were Jeffrey Cowan, Esq., Seattle, Washington, and Paula Ann Brown, Esq., Oakland, California. Appearing for Defendant were Brian Judge, Esq., and Stephen Campbell, Esq., United States Department of Justice, Civil Division, San Francisco, California, and Ross Sargent, Esq., Lieutenant, United States Coast Guard, Alameda, California.

 The parties submitted proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law December 31, 1996 and the matter was submitted.

 II. FINDINGS OF FACT

 1. The Dialogue, built in 1983, was a 27 foot long, fiberglass, cutter rigged sloop displacing 8,700 lbs., with a beam of 8 feet 8 inches, a draft of 4 feet 4 inches, and equipped with a 20 horsepower inboard diesel engine which required maintenance at 150 hour intervals. There was a 33 gallon fuel tank aboard which gave the Dialogue a maximum 500 nautical mile cruising radius, which was reduced during engine use in other than calm seas, or when running at higher speeds.

 2. The 44' Motor Life Boat (MLB) CG-44346 is a self-bailing and self-righting boat designed for search and rescue in heavy surf and seas. It is 44 feet 1-1/2 inches long, with a beam of 12 feet 8 inches, a draft of 3 feet 6 inches, and displacement of 35,360 lbs. The twin 185 horsepower diesel engines produce a maximum speed of 14 knots. On June 5, 1995, the MLB had a crew of BM2 Sean Rork, coxswain; BM2 Dennis McGraw, also a qualified coxswain serving as boat crew; BM3 Dane Ramos, boat crew; MK3 Eric Koppes, boat engineer; and SN Mike Culver. The coxswain is in charge of the boat and crew during a mission and is responsible for their safety. "You can't help anybody if everybody is hurt..." *fn2" Rork had participated in 100 search and rescue missions in the year prior to June 5, 1995, almost all involving boats, either power or sail. His crew were also experienced in search and rescue.

 3. The HH60A helicopter CG-6008 is a dual-engine helicopter which normally has a crew of a pilot, co-pilot and one aircrewman. On June 5, 1995, because the CG-6008 was on a training mission, it had two aircrewman instead of just one. Depending on the circumstances and conditions, the helicopter is capable of hoisting people from the water or directly from a vessel.

 4. On May 24, 1995, Mr. Korpi and his wife departed Dana Point, California, enroute Santa Barbara, California. In Santa Barbara, they slept for several hours and Mrs. Korpi decided to return to Dana Point, while Mr. Korpi then continued the voyage alone enroute Seattle, Washington, a 1,200 nautical mile journey with no planned landfall in between. He had allotted himself two weeks time for this voyage. He had sufficient fuel to motor 500 nautical miles.

 5. At the time of this voyage, Mr. Korpi was a 61 year old man whose sailing experience included sailing eleven days from St. Thomas in the British Virgin Islands, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, not singlehanded. His longest previous singlehanded voyages were 36 hours round trip from Dana Point to San Clemente, and 300 miles, across Lake Michigan. Mr. Korpi's sailing experience aboard Dialogue included sailing between mainland California and the Channel islands.

 6. Mr. Korpi, whose uncorrected vision required him to wear corrective eyeglasses all his waking hours, lost them at some point on June 5, 1995.

 7. As Mr. Korpi headed north, he was forced to "motorsail", that is operate his engine with the sails raised, into winds reaching as high as 40 knots and seas and swells of at least six feet. During the eight or nine days it took to reach the area of Cape Mendocino, Mr. Korpi testified that he slept as much as sixteen hours a day, in 20 minute increments. For the 72 hour period immediately preceding the grounding, he ate only hot chocolate, coffee, granola bars, nuts, cookies and similar snack foods.

 8. Mr. Korpi realized he could not reach Seattle in the time he had allotted for the voyage, so he turned south, intending to return to Dana Point. At no time on his voyage north had he made landfall to attempt to replenish his food or fuel supplies to rest for an extended period.

 9. Approximately six hours after turning south, the sailboat's automatic steering device failed. Several hours later, near the Farrallon Islands, Mr. Korpi decided he could not continue all the way to Dana Point without his automatic steering device and decided to head for Monterey Harbor. From this point on, it was necessary for Mr. Korpi to continually man the tiller in order to steer the Dialogue.

 10. At approximately 2:30 a.m. of June 5, 1996, Mr. Korpi, who was falling asleep at the tiller, turned Dialogue into the 25 to 35 knot wind and hove to in the vicinity of Monterey Canyon in an attempt to get some rest, as his boat rode the ten foot swells which were topped by 4 to 6 foot seas.

 11. At about 10:48 on the morning of June 5, Mr. Korpi contacted the U.S. Coast Guard Group Monterey ("Group Monterey") by radio for advice on entering Monterey harbor. He informed Group Monterey that he was not personally in distress, and asked for landmarks to assist his entry in to the harbor. Korpi stated that he was four miles from Monterey Harbor and had either run out of fuel *fn3" or had a clogged fuel filter.

 12. From 10:48 a.m. until it went aground, the Dialogue had no engine power. Its sole means of propulsion was by sail. Mr. Korpi did not attempt to check or replace his fuel filter although he had spare fuel filters aboard.

 13. He believed that he could easily reach the harbor, having sailed in before. He requested advice, but internal Coast Guard regulations prohibit Coast Guard personnel from providing information such as courses to steer since this type of information is unique to the particular vessel and heavily dependent on the local weather and sea conditions encountered at the scene. Instead, TC1 Lewandowski, the Coast Guard radio watchstander at Group Monterey, offered to assist him in contacting the Monterey Harbor Master when he was closer to shore since Mr. Korpi's radio did not have the channel the harbormaster monitored.

 14. At about 11:30, Mr. Korpi again radioed the Coast Guard, asking for landmarks to assist him in entering the harbor. He gave Group Monterey his position as 36-37.4N 121-57.7W, which was southwest of Pt. Pinos. Mr. Korpi radioed Group Monterey that he was going to try to sail around Pt. Pinos.

 15. Mr. Korpi stated that he saw sandy beaches, a building like a hotel, and a building with a cupola. He was unaware of what Point Pinos looked like. As shown on National Oceanographic and Aerospace Administration (NOAA) navigational chart 18685, Point Pinos, on the tip of the Monterey Peninsula, has a 89 foot tall lighthouse with a radio beacon on it and would be the first landfall for a sailor, like Mr. Korpi, approaching Monterey Harbor from the north.

 16. In the area where Mr. Korpi was sailing, the winds were from the northwest at 25 to 35 knots, the seas were also from the northwest at 4 to 7 feet on top of 11 to 12 foot swells also from the northwest.

 17. At 11:28 a.m., at the request of Mr. Korpi, TC1 Lewandowski passed to Mr. Korpi the latitude and longitude of Monterey Harbor.

 18. Mr. Korpi gave TC1 Lewandowski his Global Positioning System (GPS) position so the Coast Guard could plot his position on a chart, something Mr. Korpi had not done himself. TC1 Lewandowski confirmed that Mr. Korpi was southwest of Point Pinos, on the wrong side of the Monterey Peninsula. This explains why Mr. Korpi was unable to recognize any landmarks in Monterey Harbor.

 19. At the conclusion of this conversation, TC1 Lewandowski requested that Mr. Korpi remain well offshore.

 20. Mr. Korpi testified that after passing his GPS position at 12:19 p.m. he continued to sail a south-easterly course toward shore while waiting for the Coast Guard to tell him where he was located.

 21. About 12:55, Mr. Korpi realized that he would not be able to sail around Pt. Pinos. He radioed Group Monterey, and told them that he was going to deploy his anchor to keep from drifting ashore. About ten minutes later, he informed Group Monterey that his anchor was holding, and that he was preparing a second anchor in case the first began to drag.

 22. Mr. Korpi further testified that the Coast Guard never told him that he was located southwest of Point Pinos; however, on Defendant's Exhibit J, a tape of the radio communications, TC1 Lewandowski can be clearly heard saying, "Plot you southwest of Point Pinos, is that correct?" Mr. Korpi acknowledged this communication, but was unable to confirm this location because he did not know what Point Pinos looked like.

 23. At approximately 12:30 p.m., while driving to work in a radio equipped vehicle, a State Park lifeguard named Erik Landry saw the Dialogue about three-quarters of a mile off Asilomar Beach. Noting the extremely windy and rough weather, he radioed Mr. Korpi who confirmed that he was in no personal distress but had no power other than his sails. Mr. Landry passed his observation of Dialogue to the Coast Guard. During the five minutes that Mr. Landry watched the Dialogue, he did not see it move and thought Dialogue might have been anchored.

 24. At 12:55 p.m., Mr. Korpi radioed Group Monterey stating he was unable to round Point Pinos and was going to throw over some anchors. He requested the Coast Guard's advice and reported he was about one mile off shore. The radio operator thought he sounded distressed. The helicopter pilot, who heard the radio transmission, described the Korpi's voice as tired, exhausted, high-pitched, and that of a "person in trouble." *fn4"

 25. Mr. Korpi specifically stated, "I'm trapped. I can't get around the point on one end and the wind's going to blow me on shore going south." (Def. Ex. J) Without his engine and with only his small storm jib raised, Mr. Korpi could not have sailed Dialogue to safety. To sail away from the coast, Mr. Korpi would have had to raise his mainsail and replace his storm jib with a working jib. Without help, this would have taken 15 minutes and within that time he would have gone aground. Korpi testified that raising more sail wouldn't have helped, since he would have been sailing into the wind.

 26. Mr. Korpi also testified that, once he plotted his position, he realized he was on a lee shore and became concerned. He immediately started his engine and began to motor away from shore in a northwesterly direction, but his engine failed after a few minutes. He then immediately deployed his anchor.

 27. TC1 Lewandowski requested that Mr. Korpi deploy his anchor and stated he was sending a vessel to assist Mr. Korpi. Mr. Korpi did not attempt to contact any other vessels for assistance and no offers of assistance were refused by Mr. Korpi nor by the Coast Guard. There was no proof of any other vessels being in the area.

 28. When Mr. Korpi first dropped his anchor at about 12:55, the Group Monterey controller sounded the "SAR" (search and rescue) alarm. The crew of motor lifeboat ("MLB") 44346 got underway at 1:01, leaving the Monterey Coast Guard station for the position where the Dialogue was anchored. Although the MLB was in radio contact with Group Monterey, Group Monterey did not inform the MLB that Mr. Korpi had twice advised that the Dialogue's anchor was holding.

 29. By 1:01 p.m., Group Monterey's MLB was underway enroute the Dialogue's position.

 30. At 1:06 p.m., Mr. Korpi radioed the Group reporting that his anchor was holding. His voice was weak and his breathing labored. He admitted that he was hyperventilating.

 31. Although Mr. Korpi reported that his anchor was holding, he did not take a fix using either GPS, visual bearings, fathometer readings or by any other means. He did not plot his position on a chart at any point while anchored so that he could compare it with later fixes to ensure that Dialogue remained in the same position and that his anchor was not dragging. He based this opinion on the absence of any sound from the anchor, the distance to the rocks, the positions of the tiller and anchor line, and the motion of the boat.

 32. During the 1:06 p.m. communication with the Group, Mr. Korpi asked for an estimated time of arrival for the MLB. Upon being informed that the MLB would reach him in 20 minutes, Mr. Korpi stated that he thought he could hold on that long.

 33. The anchor Mr. Korpi was using was a 25 pound, CQR anchor. Although he also had a 35 pound aboard, he did not use it. He had difficulty deploying it, because the chain was stuck.

 34. At 1:23, Group Monterey contacted Mr. Korpi, who told them that the first anchor was holding, and that he did not need to deploy the second anchor. At no time during these radio transmissions did Mr. Korpi state that he was personally in distress or ask for physical assistance.

 35. At 1:28 p.m., the MLB had rounded Point Pinos, but, because of the heavy seas, was unable to see Dialogue. Mr. Korpi had earlier reported that when he was below, where his radio was located, he would not be able to see the MLB until it was right on top of him. The Group had Mr. Korpi count from one to five and ...


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