Tag Archives: greenland

On the Hunt for The Bear

The USRC Bear in the ice; Location and date unknown

For over two decades, NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard have been looking for the final resting place of the Revenue Cutter Bear. One of the most storied ships in USCG history, the Bear was launched in 1874, and would see service for the next nine decades.

The historic vessel entered Coast Guard service as a revenue cutter in 1885, spending much of its time working the 20,000 mile Alaska coastline. The Bear was a rescue ship and medical ship; served as transportation for governors, teachers, construction material, mail and reindeer; hunted for poachers, smugglers and illegal traders; and she served as census taker and floating courthouse during her time in Alaskan waters.

The Bear’s masthead

She assisted the 1906 relief efforts after the San Francisco earthquake, as well as assisting Robert Byrd on his Second and Third Antarctic Expeditions. In 1930, the Bear starred in the film version of Jack London’s The Sea Wolf. In 1939, she joined the US Navy on the United States Antarctic Service Expedition. When the United States entered WWII, the Bear returned to Arctic waters joining the Northeast Atlantic Greenland Patrol.

With her service in WWII, the Bear became the oldest Navy ship to be deployed outside the Continental United States. She was also one of the last ships originally equipped with sails to serve in a theater of war. The Bear was one of a select few Navy ships to have served in the Spanish-American War, as well as both World Wars.

The Bear’s final moments, with the Irving Birch looking on

In 1963, while being towed from Nova Scotia to Philadelphia, one of her masts collapsed in a storm, and the venerable Bear went down to the sea bottom.

In 2019, researchers from NOAA caught a break. Two targets were discovered, and one showed major promise. After two years of comparing photos of the wreck at the bottom of the ocean, and photos of the Bear in dry dock and at port, researchers have stated that they are “reasonably certain” that the wreckage is the Bear.

The wreck on the left, with the Bear in dry dock, circa 1924, on the right; Photo credit: NOAA


USCGC Healy to sail Northwest Passage

USCG Cutter Healy 700 miles north of Utqiaġvik, Alaska; Public domain photo: Credit USCG

The largest icebreaker of the three in the service of the United States Coast Guard, will sail through the Northwest Passage at the end of this summer. The sailing will be a joint venture with the Canadian Coast Guard.

The Cutter Healy is named after Captain “Hell-Roaring” Mike Healy, who was captain of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear. The Bear sailed the Alaskan coast for decades. The icebreaker Healy has accommodations for the entire crew, as well as for up to 50 scientists. The Healy can continuously break through ice up to 4-1/2 feet thick at 3 knots, and up to 10 feet thick, when “backing & ramming”. The Healy is designed to operate at temperatures down to -50F, and was the first U.S. surface vessel to reach the North Pole unaccompanied.

The upcoming mission through the Northwest Passage is officially a joint research and educational collaboration. That may very well be true, but it’s hard to ignore the geopolitical message that will be sent along with the research.

As the sea ice in the Arctic diminishes, clearly transport through the Northwest Passage will increase.

Currently, plans have the Cutter Healy leaving Dutch Harbor in mid-August for the Northwest Passage. By mid-September the icebreaker expects to do exercises out of Nuuk, Greenland around Baffin Bay.