Federal judge dismisses Cup cat salvage claim

Posted on Written by Michael LaBella

The salvage claim made by a San Francisco resident over the French America’s Cup World Series team’s 45-foot catamaran has been dismissed.

Energy Team thanked Todd Tholke for “salvaging its vessel” in a statement released by Noah Hagey, the lawyer representing the team.

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg dismissed the case ealier this month, noting that both parties “will bear its own costs and attorneys’ fees, except as may otherwise be agreed between them,” court documents showed.

The court also provided for the return of a $50,000 cash security to Energy Team. Hagey told Soundings Trade Only that the syndicate declined to comment because the terms of the dismissal are confidential.

The AC45 was docked at San Francisco’s Pier 30/32 between America’s Cup World Series races Sept. 30. The outgoing tide lowered the water enough for the cat’s chain to get caught on debris beneath the pier, Hagey said. When the tide turned and the water level rose, the chain snapped when it remained caught.

Tholke recovered the vessel and towed it back to shore. Tholke was praised, and a synopsis on the Energy Team’s website said he had been invited to join them in the guest position during the last race of the series.

“Fortunately, the sea was calm, and the damage was very limited,” the team said on its website Oct. 1, the day after the AC45 was returned.

Tholke then filed a $200,000 salvage claim in U.S. District Court of Northern California, invoking centuries-old maritime law.

The claim filed by Tholke’s lawyer, John Edgecomb, stated that “due to the strength of the wind and currents, and the nighttime condition” it took Tholke several attempts before he finally “lashed a line onto a rudder post and pulled the Energy Team AC45 off its perilous position on the rocks.”

Compensation for the salvage “should be in excess of $200,000,” the claim filed Oct. 4 in the federal court said.

Edgecomb said his client called the Coast Guard immediately after discovering the boat.

“He was really just seeing if they were going to go and get it, and apparently they indicated they would not be under the circumstances,” Edgcomb told Trade Only at the time.

A Coast Guard transcript obtained by Trade Only showed that Tholke, who identified himself to the Coast Guard as the nightwatchman at the Treasure Island Marina, never asked for assistance in the vessel’s recovery.

“I think I got a humdinger for you,” transcripts of the call showed Tholke saying. “This is going to be on the news. This is going to be so funny. I was going to go get it with my Whaler, but I was thinking, um, I didn’t want someone to think I stole it.

“It’s like a quarter-of-a-million-dollar yacht someone forgot to tie up,” Tholke told the call center. “It’s not on the rocks.”

A photo of Tholke aboard his 15-foot Boston Whaler towing the 45-foot cat shows the Golden Gate Bridge lit up in the night and flat water. Hagey said Coast Guard records showed winds were between zero and 2 knots.

After the claim was filed the cat was “arrested” Oct. 7. The team filed a counterclaim, saying the it had been damaged during the recovery.

The cat had drifted three or four miles to Treasure Island’s Clipper Cove, where Tholke, a musician, is a liveaboard. In a June newspaper article focused on Tholke’s open-mic preformances, Tholke said he lived on his boat as a way to continue pursuing his dreams of making music.

“For the people in the boating community and the people in the Bay Area, who are very generous and neighborly, it’s just a big black eye,” Hagey said at the time.

— Reagan Haynes


3 comments on “Federal judge dismisses Cup cat salvage claim

  1. shine

    No mention of what reason the judge gave for dismissing the claim? That would seem to me to be single most important part of the article.

  2. Bud

    Just gets me wondering what the outcome would have been if the guy did a good deed and returned the vessel and asked for nothing. I would bet he would have gotten money from the team for his good deed and praise in the local news, talk shows, town, etc.
    Greed gets the best of people. The guy wasn’t in the towing/salvage business. Right? So here was his chance of 15 mins of fame and a chance to do a good thing…and he blew it. What ever happened to do for others as you would have them do for you.
    Just my 2 cents…. Take it for what it’s worth.

  3. Boatlawyer.com

    It appears based upon PACER that the case was settled and dismissed. We will never know what or how much the settlement was for as the settlement was confidential, but the case was not dismissed on the merits of the case.

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