This was not the first
time the Bear made headlines as a rescue ship in the far north regions of the world. During its years of service, this ship
became a legend in its own time.
It was the Bear, then
owned by the U.S. Navy, and a second ship, the USS Thetis, that set out in 1884 to rescue the ill-fated Greely Expedition,
which became trapped at Lady
Franklin Bay in Northern
Greenland. That expedition set up camp to study winter conditions in the far north in 1881, but then became trapped.
After what was a hazardous journey beating through ice, Bear and Thetis finally arrive at the expedition's camp. Only Lieutenant.Greely
and six of his men remained alive.
After that trip, the
Navy turned the Bear over the the Revenue Service for use on patrol in the Bering Sea.
The Bear was designed
for fighting the ice. She was built as a seal hunting ship at Dundee,
Scotland, in 1874. She was a 200-foot-long wooden hulled ship,
but her hull was made of six inch thick oak planks reinforced with heavy steel plating. She was rigged as a barkentine and powered with steam.
Because she was the largest
of the government cutters, the Bear was assigned the northern duty. She sailed the Bering Sea, the Chukchi
Sea and the Arctic Ocean, often through uncharted
Between 1886 and 1926,
the Bear was a floating government at sea. The crew, under the command of Captain Michael Healy, took census, counted ships,
seized vessels violating seal hunting laws or found smuggling liquor and firearms to the natives. The ship took soundings,
bearings, geodetical and astronomical observations, recorded tides and currents north of the Aleutian
Islands, and escorted whale ships into Point Barrow. In those years the ship became legendary. The crew acted
as judge, doctor and policeman to the Alaska natives.
The Bear also returned
to play a major role in rescue operations following the San Francisco
earthquake of 1906. That is because the ship's home port was technically San Francisco,
where she moored during the harsh winter months.
In 1915 when the Revenue
Service became part of the Coast Guard, the Bear became USCGC Bear. She continued patroling the Bering
Sea during World War One and remained with the service until 1921 when the government said the ship was obsolete.
But that was not the
end of this amazing ship. Because no replacement ship was available, the Bear continue Coast Guard service for another three
years, during which she was trapped in ice, pushed ashore in a storm and reportedly destroyed. But after that, the Bear was
dragged back into deep water and found to have suffered little damage.
Finally, in 1928 the
Bear was replaced by the new cutter Northland. The ship was turned over to the City of Oakland
where she moored at her old winter home of San Francisco and
was used as a museum. During this brief retirement, the Bear was featured in a Hollywood
film, The Sea Wolf," in 1930.
The Bear sprang back
into the news in 1934 after she was purchased by Admiral Richard Byrd for a new expedition to the South Pole. The ship was
renamed Bear of Oakland.and then sailed to New Zealand
for a refit.
Byrd took the Bear on
three Antarctic expeditions that pushed the vessel to its limits. When President Roosevelt commissioned Admiral Byrd to lead
an expedition to Antarctica to lay claim to territory, Bear served as the expedition flagship.
Also participating was the Northland.
The Bear arrived off
Antarctica on Dec. 31, and in the weeks that followed, set new records by pushing through
ice to points never before reached. At one point the ship became trapped and nearly crushed by the ice. She escaped because
her spotting aircraft found a lead through the ice.
World War II brought
the Bear back into Navy duty. She joined the Navy as a Greenland patrol boat. By then her
rig was reduced to two pole masts. With two heavy diesel engines, she became a motor vessel.
While on that patrol
Bear captured the German ship Busko, which was setting up a radio station for communication with U-boats. It was the first
U.S. capture in the war. The Bear served
in the war until new vessels were built to replace it, and she was laid up at Boston.
After the war, the old
ship was purchased by Frank M. Shaw of Montreal and renamed
Arctic Bear. In 1948 she was towed to Canada for conversion as a sealer,
but the plan failed and the Bear was abandoned at Halifax.
Then in 1962 she was
purchased for conversion to a restaurant and museum ship with plans to moor it at Philadelphia.
She was renamed Bear. But the Bear was a tired old ship by then, and the years of lying abandoned in the mud at Halifax had taken their toll.
While under tow behind
the tug Irving Birch, on her way from Halifax to Philadelphia,
a gale broke the towline. Bear's foremast collapsed, poking a hole in her rotting hull. She slowly filled and sank even as
Coast Guard vessels were standing by.
The Bear was lost on
the morning of March 19, 1963, 250 miles east of Boston.