USRC Bear

Aug 08, 2014, 7:00AM EST
USRC Bear
An early icebreaker with a venerable career

 The steam and sail propelled ship Bear had a highly varied career during its 89-year lifespan.  Built in Scotland in 1874 for operation as a sealer out of Newfoundland, her hull consisted of six-inch-thick strakes of oak bolted to oak ribs.  While the decks were traditional teak, the side sheathing was Australian ironwood.  The bow was heavily reinforced for working in ice.  Built with a barquentine rig, she also carried a coal-fired single-ended Scotch boiler for forcing her way through the ice.  After ten successful years as a sealer, the ship was purchased by the United States government for use in the search for the Greeley Expedition.  The next year (1885) she was transferred to the Revenue Cutter Service for service in Alaska.  She quickly made a name as the most capable icebreaking vessel in the US government fleet.  Captained by Michael “Hell Roaring Mike” Healy, she carried reindeer from Siberia to start the first herds in North America.  A few years later (1897), the Bear were tasked with relieving the US whaling fleet that had become beset in the ice off Barrow, Alaska and was in danger of starvation.  Stopped by heavy ice in the Bering Sea, Captain Tuttle put three of his officers ashore.  With assistance from Native Alaskans, they rounded a herd of reindeer and drove them overland in winter to Barrow, relieving the whalers until their vessels were freed with the summer thaw.  On 18 April 1906, Bear was docked in its homeport of San Francisco Bay when the famous earthquake struck.  The crew of the Bear rendered aid to those in need for some time thereafter.   The Bear continued to serve as a Revenue Cutter and, from 1915, as a Coast Guard Cutter until 1926, when it was laid up and transferred to the City of Oakland for use as a museum ship.  It was used as the sealing vessel in the 1930 film version of Jack London’s “The Sea Wolf”.  In 1932, the ship (now the USS Bear) was acquired by the US Navy for Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s second expedition to Antarctica (1933-35).  Bear was reactivated for the US Antarctic Service Expedition (1939-41) and ended up evacuating US personnel from the southern continent as World War II intensified.  With the entry into the conflict by the United States, USS Bear was assigned to the Greenland Patrol.  The ship was sold to private owners in 1948.  In 1963, new owners proposed to use Bear as a floating seafood restaurant in Philadelphia.  While under tow from Nova Scotia to Philadelphia, a storm was encountered.  On 19 March 1963, Bear sank in waters of the North Atlantic approximately 100 miles east of Cape Sable.   

 
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